[Corpora-List] Numpties and bennies: Google searches as linguistic evidence

Roger Shlomo Harris rwsh at nationalfinder.com
Thu Dec 7 17:46:01 CET 2006

Thursday 7th December 2006. London, U.K.

Dear All

Ramesh Krishnamurthy wrote:

>>> and most hits for contrapunctual were from music texts.

That's surprising. Contrapunctual suggests music which is played erratically
so that notes are played too early or too late - that's how I play the piano
after drinking too much beer. Ramesh, of course, meant to write contrapuntal
which is a genuine music term but he was just testing to see whether we were

Kind regards,

(who periodically moonlights as a proof-reader.)

----- Original Message -----
From: Ramesh Krishnamurthy
To: Diana Maynard
Cc: Harold Somers ; corpora at lists.uib.no
Sent: Thursday, December 07, 2006 12:06 PM
Subject: Re: [Corpora-List] Numpties and bennies: Google searches as linguistic evidence

Hi Diana
Sorry about the brevity of my previous email.
I didn't mean to be rude, just in a hurry as usual...

But I was raising a genuine concern of mine. An experience last year: challenged in
my daughter's school playground by 2 mothers who had heard of my involvement with
writing dictionaries, I was asked to resolve their dispute: "is unpunctual a word, can I
say unpunctual".

It was not listed in any of the printed 6 or 7 native-speaker (US and UK) and
learner's dictionaries I looked at. There were 15 occurrences in Bank of English (5 in British
Magazines, 4 in Independent, and a few one-offs), so below the normal threshold for inclusion
in Cobuild at the time.

But I found 4320 hits on Google (43,100 today!
- so has its usage increased, or has Google's trawl just got bigger?), mostly entries in
online dictionaries (based on each other?)... but also 9000+ for impunctual, 5000 for non-punctual,
500 for nonpunctual, 400 for contrapunctual, 11 for apunctual, and 7 for anti-punctual...

When I looked closer at the hits, most of the hits for impunctual were from a 1913 USA dictionary,
most of the hits for non(-)punctual were (technical use) from linguistics texts, and
most hits for contrapunctual were from music texts.

So I told the mothers that unpunctual was a valid word form
(ie created according to valid derivational rules)
but that it wasn't very widely used.

PS I've just noticed a discussion on unpunctual at


At 09:36 07/12/2006, Diana Maynard wrote:

Yes, I should have been more explicit, I didn't mean in all cases!

Ramesh Krishnamurthy wrote:

I guess this demonstrates the power of the internet over the BNC as a corpus.....

For rare events, events post-1994, and events beyond British English, perhaps...
There's still the problem of reliability...

Ramesh Krishnamurthy

Lecturer in English Studies, School of Languages and Social Sciences, Aston University, Birmingham B4 7ET, UK
[Room NX08, North Wing of Main Building] ; Tel: +44 (0)121-204-3812 ; Fax: +44 (0)121-204-3766

Project Leader, ACORN (Aston Corpus Network): http://corpus.aston.ac.uk/
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