Friday, September 17, 2010

Words in sentences

Last night Andrew and I were talking and I said, "So, in a sentence I read today..."

His laughter interrupted me.

"Who talks like that?" he scoffed. Then, "Oh. You were talking about work, weren't you?"

I read sentences for a living. There's this huge corpus of sentences sitting on a server somewhere and they get pinged to me, randomly, one at a time, and I read them. There’s a little more to it but, basically it’s just that simple.

It's quite interesting, really. I get to read snippets of old news articles so I'm getting really good at distinguishing between conservative and liberal papers as well as getting caught up on current events from approximately six months ago. Sometimes, if a sentence is particularly intriguing, I will open a new tab and paste the URL for the article in the search bar so that I can read the whole article later.

I don't only read news excerpts, though. The corpus also includes classical literature so I'm getting versed in passages penned by authors including, but not limited to Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jane Austin, Edith Wharton, Edgar Allen Poe, Herman Melville, James Fenimore Cooper, Henry James, Jack London, Mary Shelley, Upton Sinclair, Gustave Flaubert, George Eliot, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, and the Brontë sisters, Emily and Charlotte.

Some of them pop up so often that I can recognize their style almost immediately and am getting rather familiar with the characters in their stories. Sometimes sentences disclosing crucial information to the storyline will come up and I get a shock like, “Oh, he dies! What? I thought so-and-so was going to marry him.” Unfortunately I can’t really open whole novels in new tabs to read later. Those take a little more dedication than a browser tab.

Anyway, that’s what I do right now to bring home the bacon and disregarding any knowledge of that what I said to Andrew does sound perfectly absurd. You’d say something more general like, “While I was reading today…” Certainly not something so terribly specific as, “In a sentence I read today…”

It’s not any more absurd, though, than when my mom, a professional librarian, was taking a class on…something. Something revolving around the English language. I’m not sure what, exactly—she’ll have to fill in the details—but she walked into the library, where she worked, and asked her friend behind the reference counter, “Do we have any books with words in sentences?”

My mom’s friend looked at her, blinked a few times, and smiled sweetly. Then, patronizingly, she said, “Myrna, all the books have words in sentences.”

What my mom was looking for was a book full of example sentences which, for all I know, is exactly what I’m helping make. Oh, the circles life turns.


  1. It was so funny to read this because I feel the same way when I'm working that job, too. Especially clicking over to read the whole article. I totally do that. I really dread the Nathaniel Hawthorne sentences, though. They are almost never good material.

  2. I kindof want that job. No, I don't want to be REQUIRED to do it....just to have the option. I wonder if there's a random sentence generator online?