Word salad

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For the album by Fischer-Z, see Word Salad (album).

Word salad is a "confused or unintelligible mixture of seemingly random words and phrases",[1] most often used to describe a symptom of a neurological or mental disorder. The words may or may not be grammatically correct, but semantically confused to the point that the listener cannot extract any meaning from them. The term is often used in psychiatry, as well as in theoretical linguistics to describe a type of grammatical acceptability judgment by native speakers, and in computer programming to describe textual randomization.

In psychiatry[edit]

Word salad may describe a symptom of neurological or psychological conditions in which a person attempts to communicate an idea, but words and phrases that may appear to be random and unrelated come out in an incoherent sequence instead. Often, the person is unaware that he or she did not make sense. It appears in people with dementia and schizophrenia,[2] as well as after anoxic brain injury.

It may be present as:

  • Receptive aphasia[3]
  • Schizophasia, a mental condition characterized by incoherent babbling (compulsive or intentional, but nonsensical)
  • Logorrhea, a mental condition characterized by excessive talking (incoherent and compulsive)
  • Clanging, a speech pattern that follows rhyming and other sound associations rather than meaning
  • Graphorrhea, a written version of word salad that is more rarely seen than logorrhea in people with schizophrenia.[4]

In media[edit]

In February 2015, American media outlet Fox News described President Barack Obama's official National Security Strategy as a "word salad", suggesting that the document was incoherent or nonsensical.[5] The previous month, the Seattle, Washington alternative weekly newspaper The Stranger described a speech by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin at a Republican Party gathering as a "word salad", meaning a nonsensical rant.[6]

In computing[edit]

Word salad can be generated by a computer program for entertainment purposes by inserting randomly-chosen words of the same type (nouns, adjectives, etc) into template sentences with missing words, a game similar to Mad Libs.

Another way of generating meaningless text is Mojibake, also called Buchstabensalat ("letter salad") in German, in which an assortment of seemingly-random text is generated through character encoding incompatibility in which one set of characters are replaced by another, though the effect is more effective in languages where each character represents a word, such as Chinese or Japanese, than a letter.

More serious attempts to produce nonsense automatically stem from Shannon's seminal paper A Mathematical Theory of Communication from 1948[7] where progressively more convincing nonsense is generated first by choosing letters and spaces randomly, then according to the frequency with which each character appears in some sample of text, then respecting the likelihood that the chosen letter appears after the preceding one or two in the sample text, and then applying similar techniques to whole words. Its most convincing nonsense is generated by second-order word approximation, in which words are chosen by a random function weighted to the likeliness that each word follows the preceding one in normal text:

THE HEAD AND IN FRONTAL ATTACK ON AN ENGLISH WRITER THAT THE CHAR- ACTER OF THIS POINT IS THEREFORE ANOTHER METHOD FOR THE LETTERS THAT THE TIME OF WHO EVER TOLD THE PROBLEM FOR AN UNEXPECTED.

Nonsensical phrasing can also be generated for more malicious reasons, such as the Bayesian poisoning used to counter Bayesian spam filters by using a string of words which have a high probability of being collocated in English, but with no concern for whether the sentence makes sense grammatically or logically.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Definition of "word salad". Oxford University Press. 2012. 
  2. ^ Shives, Louise Rebraca (2008). Basic concepts of psychiatric-mental health nursing. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer / Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 112. ISBN 0-7817-9707-1. 
  3. ^ "Merck Manual". merckmanuals.com. Merck Publishing. Retrieved 12/6/14.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  4. ^ Geschwind, Norman (1974). Selected papers on language and the brain (2. print. ed.). Dordrecht ; Boston: Reidel. p. 80. ISBN 9789027702623. 
  5. ^ Stirewalt, Chris (6 February 2015). "Word salad: Team Obama offers foreign policy rationale". Fox News. 
  6. ^ Constant, Paul (26 January 2015). "Sarah Palin Serves Up Thirty Solid Minutes of Word Salad at Iowa Republican Candidate Summit". The Stranger. 
  7. ^ Shannon, C. E. (1948). "A Mathematical Theory of Communication" (PDF). The Bell System Technical Journal 27: 379–423. ISSN 1538-7305. Retrieved 23 January 2015.