South Hadley & surrounded by trees

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Reader FM wrote to draw our attention to what he thought might be "another example of poor machine reading, à la Embuggerance and Feisty". FM is referring back to this epic error, where a line in a review listing interesting vocabulary items

embuggerance, elevate, feisty, holistic,

somehow attracted the attention of an algorithm for un-inverting comma-separated lists of author names, resulting in the hypothetical author pair "Elevate Embuggerance and Holistic Feisty", and a striking citation in Google Scholar:


FM's possible new embuggerance is a weather station in South Hadley MA, whose neighborhood names as "South Hadley & surrounded by trees".  And this is indeed the sort of error that  "entity taggers" — algorithms for finding names and other referring expressions in text — can make. However, a small amount of detective work establishes that this particular evocative phrase is almost certainly of human origin.

The folks at let you "Share your weather data with the rest of the world!" by contributing to their network of Personal Weather Stations. The listing of these stations is a table whose columns are labelled "Station ID", "Neighborhood", "City", "State", "Country", "Lat, Lon", "Station", and "Link":

As you'd expect, the "Neighborhood" column is mostly populated by phrases naming districts, streets, notable buildings, and so on. But the station KMASOUTH10 is indeed listed as being in the neighborhood "South Hadley & surrounded by trees":

This does seem more like the title of a short story than the name of a neighborhood. (It wouldn't be a good name for a rock band — has anyone ever explored the apparent lack of overlap between short story titles and rock band names? I mean, is there any doubt which category e,g, "The pit and the pendulum", "A perfect day for bananafish", "REO Speedwagon", and "Neutral Milk Hotel" belong to? But I digress.)

But is this neighborhood name the output of an overenthusiastic entity tagger? I don't think so. Exploration of the instructions for setting up a personal weather station reveals that the "Neighborhood" field is filled in by station's proprietor. Furthermore, there's a reason that a conscientious contributor might want to tell the world about those trees — the siting instructions suggest, for example, that

Humidity measurements should reflect the humidity of the general atmosphere in your location. Plants and bodies of water influence humidity measurements. As a result: make sure your humidity sensor is at least 50 feet from the nearest tree or body of water.

And there's no field for "special siting circumstances" or whatever, so a conscientious weather-station proprietor might well be tempted to sneak this information into the "neighborhood" field.


  1. Mark P said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 8:33 am

    It was pretty clear to me where "surrounded by trees" would have come from once you started explaining what the field was. As the siting instructions say, the local environment can make a big difference in weather readings. Which leads me to an almost unrelated anecdote. A couple of years ago my hometown, Rome, Ga, regularly reported significantly higher summer temperatures than almost any other town in the state, even those further south. The Atlanta TV weathermen went to great lengths to explain why this was so (mountains? valleys? local entrance to Hell?). It turned out that the readings were caused by instrument error.

  2. cameron said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 9:18 am

    There was a band here in New York a few years ago called Bananafish Zero . . .

  3. William Ockham said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 9:31 am

    I don't know about the band name assertion. If South Hadley is the lead singer, the South Hadley and surrounded by trees sounds pretty good. South Hadley should be a short female singer and the other band members should be quite tall, I think. "surrounded by trees" (in all lower case, of course) makes for a good band name and a good short story title.

  4. anon said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 9:36 am

    Granted it was a nickname for the band, but what about "The Dead"?

  5. Elena said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 9:43 am

    Maybe I'm missing it, but why the and? Why not "South Hadley surrounded by tress" or even "South Hadley and surrounding trees"?

  6. Vance Maverick said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 9:53 am

    Thanks, now I understand where my own local weather report gets its jokey location name, "The Mission: Even the weather is hip, San Francisco, CA".

  7. S.Norman said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 10:03 am

    Anything goes for band names:
    Icicle works

    Tons more.

  8. Mr Punch said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 10:32 am

    "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute" would be a plausible, if pretentious, band name. (Sort of like They Might Be Giants.)

  9. Saul said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 11:20 am

    I know of a band called Flowers For Algernon.

  10. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 12:44 pm

    Without stopping to think of others, two quite well-known bands who took their names from book titles are the Velvet Underground (lurid but purportedly non-fiction paperback) and Mott the Hoople (novel). The pre-existing written works weren't short stories, but are there really separate titling conventions for short stories as opposed to full-length books? "Hatfield and the North" certainly sounds like it could have been a short story, although I discovered while driving around London decades after the band formed that it was apparently a phrase taken from a road sign with which one would be familiar had one grown up driving around London.

  11. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

    Language Log: where the commenters fact-check your parenthetical assertions about short-story and rock-band names. :-)

    [(myl) And well they should!]

  12. S.Norman said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

    And I stuck with short stories. Book titles give us more(Doors, Mondern Lovers, Aerosmith, Amboy Dukes, Soft Machine, Mott the Hoople, Supertramp, the Fall). We also have parts of books(Genesis, The Third Bardo) and characters(The Boo Radleys). 15 years as a DJ not wasted.

  13. Sven said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 3:23 pm

    If you didn't know which of these were rock bands and which were short stories/novellas/novels, would you really be able to tell? (And maybe I managed to sneak in a few you won't know.)

    Gimpel the Fool
    The Clash
    Goodbye Columbus
    Joy Division
    Fight Club
    Mazel and Shlimazel
    Gogol Bordello
    Fifth Business
    The Rebel Angels
    Calvin, Don't Jump!
    Old Man Luedecke
    Raising the Fawn
    Shapes and Sizes
    The Engineer of Human Souls
    The Cowards
    The Daughter of Albion
    No Comment
    The Shadow Out of Time
    The Minority Report
    The Boxing Lesson
    Au Revoir Simone
    A Cricket in Times Square
    The Ebb and Flow
    Death Cab for Cutie
    Gentleman Auction House
    Letting Up Despite Great Faults
    Vampire Weekend
    Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
    The Suicide of Miss Melancholy
    Marionettes, Inc.
    Deep Breathing Exercises
    Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory
    Barn Burning
    As I Lay Dying
    Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption
    A Thousand Deaths
    Slaughterhouse Five
    Free Joe and the Rest of the World
    My Chemical Romance
    …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
    Lothar and the Hand People
    The Joy Luck Club

  14. Stilgherrian · Short Story or Rock Band? said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

    […] reading about an unusual new embuggerance over at the always-excellent Language Log, I've been introduced to a curious theory about […]

  15. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 3:44 pm

    One potentially testable hypothesis (although I'm not quite sure what you would use as your comparable data sources to run the test) is that band names are more likely to be anarthrous while book/story titles are more likely to be arthrous. So, e.g., Soft Machine is a band whose name may be an allusion to the Burroughs novel titled The Soft Machine. This seems intuitively plausible to me (and I had thought of it earlier in the day, before S. Norman's comment pointed to this excellent minimal-pair example), but I'm afraid someone with more free time and/or better statistical / datacrunching chops than me would need to see if plausible = true.

  16. Alexandra said,

    July 1, 2010 @ 10:57 pm

    @Sven: Ooh, I like this quiz. Answers, please! (Yes, yes, I know I could just Google them…)

    While many of these really could go either way, it takes me great effort to imagine a short story called Lothar and the Hand People. Would it be science fiction? (I guess the band itself was more-or-less science fiction anyway, what with Lothar being the name of the theremin…)

  17. Andrew Dowd said,

    July 2, 2010 @ 12:19 pm

    My theory is that everything is either a good name for a rock band, a bar, or a racehorse, and there is no overlap. I never thought about short story titles. 'The Pit and the Pendulum' would be a pretty cool bar, though.

  18. Army1987 said,

    July 2, 2010 @ 1:57 pm

    I don't find "South Hadley & surrounded by trees" an exceedingly weird description of where a weather station is, though I would use a comma instead of the ampersand.

  19. Sven said,

    July 2, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

    @Alexandra: Sorry, you'll just have to google. FWIW, all of those are in Wikipedia (and I don't think any were invented by rogue editors :-)).

    I thought "Lothar and the Hand People" would be a decent title for a sci-fi or fantasy story. But yeah, it may not be the most powerful example in the list.

  20. David Walker said,

    July 6, 2010 @ 4:46 pm

    Don't forget the band Uriah Heep!

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