Saturday, March 20, 2004

Linguistic fingerprints

Popular opinion would have you believe that punctuation is a fixed and certain thing which you just need to learn like your two times table. Lynne Truss is certainly making a packet out of this idea, with her book Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation still riding high at number 1 on the Hot 30 language and reference books list. Who would ever have imagined that punctuation could be "Hot"?!

But hot it is, and fixed and certain it is not. Never mind for the moment the fact that punctuation conventions have changed considerably over time. Never mind either that in texting and i-messaging a semi-colon is far more likely to show someone winking at you than linking complementary clauses at you. No, the hot issue today is the way your idiosyncratic use of punctuation marks can reveal your identity.

The quality press has been buzzing recently with the news that another blogger has landed a book deal. Now this is hot, because the blogger in question, one "Belle Du Jour", claims to be a call girl, and her blog apparently chronicles her daily life in this occupation in graphic detail. Sex and The City eat your heart out... But with the rise to fame and fortune comes intense curiosity in the media to know just who this woman is. And so, they call in Don Foster, the Professor in English whose forensic linguistic skills also tracked down the author of Primary Colors, and what did he find? Read it and see...

Internet 'call-girl' author unmasked


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