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Making Convoluted Text Simple Visually

Sometimes, some documents I read are so convoluted that I don't understand what they are telling me. I've found this to be true in for legal documents including terms of agreements and constitutions among others. Is there any kind of program that looks at the syntax of sections of text and converts them into block diagrams showing the relationships between subjects and objects with the verb, adverbs, adjectives, etc. showing how they are connected? For instance, if it was highlighting the sentence, "See Spot run", there would be two boxes, one labeled Spot and one labeled You with an arrow connecting the latter to the former. I'm thinking of something similar to sentence diagramming but graphically represented and not nearly as complicated. It seems to me that if something could lay out all of the relationships within a document, that would make it much easier for someone to understand what it means. Or is that magical thinking on my part?
posted by CollectiveMind on Jan 26, 2014 - 8 answers

I tried to look this up myself, but I couldn't find the answer, so...

What is the origin of ending a sentence with a trailing "so..." ? Who is on record first using it? How did it spread? I am talking about the annoying unfinished sentence word: "We would have gone cycling, but I couldn't find my bike, so..." I am not talking about the legitimate adverb: "I love biking so!"
posted by michaelh on Aug 29, 2013 - 15 answers

Confused by the singular "they"...

GrammarFilter: "Would [my friend] rather have their significant other think they find them ugly, or think they find them stupid?" Is this ambiguously worded? Help me settle a dispute. [more inside]
posted by Yma on Oct 18, 2012 - 25 answers

Is there a linguistic term for this?

Is there a term for, or linguistic function fulfilled by, the phrases "no yeah" and/or "yeah no" when used for the purpose of agreeing?
posted by CitrusFreak12 on Jul 18, 2012 - 12 answers

How Many Homophones?

Which language has the most homophonic words (one sound, multiple spellings. In English, e.g., BEAR and BARE)? It's hard to do precise comparisons across languages because they differ in what counts as a word, in how complicated their inflectional system is, etc. But even approximate data would be useful. I saw one paper on automatic speech recognition which showed that the system made more errors on French than Italian German etc. and that most of them were due to homophones. But, where are some real facts about degree of homophony across languages?
posted by cogneuro on Nov 9, 2010 - 22 answers

Why is "win" often implicitly considered a conditional verb?

Grammarians: Is it OK to take liberties with the word "win" when publicizing a contest or draw? [more inside]
posted by wackybrit on Oct 5, 2009 - 15 answers

when should I say 'african american' and when 'black' ?

when should I say 'african american' and when 'black' ? [more inside]
posted by krautland on Nov 16, 2007 - 71 answers


What does "normative" mean? Is it a useful word? I only ever see it used in obscure, academic writing, which makes me suspect it's worthless. How is it different from "normal"? My dictionary says it means, "Of, relating to, or prescribing a norm or standard: normative grammar." That sounds like "normal" to me, so why not just say "normal"? Can someone give me some clear sentences that use the word -- sentences that are not written in post-modern, complit speak? Can one use "normative" meaningfully in a sentence about real-world things, like butter, eggs or bricks?
posted by grumblebee on May 21, 2004 - 24 answers

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