Remarkable coincidence

Here’s a comment I just had occasion to post on Alison Bechdel’s site:

This morning, I was teaching a class about English words derived from Latin and Greek. One of the exercises required them to write definitions of English words and illustrate their definitions with examples of the words in use.

I wanted to show them how they could use Lexis-Nexis* to find example sentences. So I projected the computer onto the screen in front of the classroom and opened the Lexis-Nexis search window. I asked the class which word they wanted me to look for in my demonstration. From a list of several dozen words, someone picked “neurosis.” So I typed “neurosis” into the search window. Up came hundreds of results. Looking these over, we could see not only potential definitions, but a good deal about the usage of the word. For example, finding it in hundreds of daily newspapers but only one medical journal we formed the hypothesis that it is a word that is no longer in technical use, an hypothesis which that one journal reference** explicitly confirmed.

Then I wanted to show them that you can narrow the search so that it only brings up items posted today. When I did that, paragraphs six through eight of this article appeared on the screen***:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jul/18/comics-grow-up-graphic-novels-harvey-pekar

You could have knocked me over with a feather. I gave a little eulogy for Harvey Pekar and said something like, “Hey, Alison Bechdel! She’s great!”****  Then it was back to lexicography.

*Here’s a link to Lexis-Nexis.  My students and I have access to their “Academic” service

**It was the 2 May 2009 edition of The Lancet, in case you’re curious; “Twisted Science, Regulation, and Molecules,” by Peter Tyrer, Pg. 1513 Vol. 373 No. 9674, wherein appear the sentences “The condition from which my patient suffers used to be called depressive neurosis. It was not a very good diagnostic label, and its boundaries were unclear, but it did allow anxiety and depression to coexist without the need for splitting them into interminable subgroups that, when they were subsequently found together in one person, were pompously described as “comorbidity.”” 

***The portion that appears on screen starts with the search term you used to find the article.  The first appearance of “neurosis” was near the top of paragraph six, and the screen I was using had room for that paragraph and the next two. 

**** Come to think of it, it may have been closer to “Whoa, there’s Alison Bechdel!”  Or maybe “Whaa–!  Alison Bechdel!”  It may even have been “Alison Bechdel!  Golly!”  I taught another class right after that one, so I can’t be certain of my exact phrasing.

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