Literally bigger than the phone book

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The Edinburgh Festival season has begun. There are more than half a dozen independently run and temporally overlapping festivals, depending on what you want to count. But the biggest of all of them is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the entire world (I admitted in a Lingua Franca post to my love of the lowbrow humor of the comedy shows). I've often told people that the catalog of shows is bigger than the phone book for an average city — a claim that will be uninterpretable to many, since most of us hardly ever see telephone directories now. But I would hate for you to think that I spoke loosely. Let's get quantitative. Edinburgh does still have a phone book, published by BT (formerly British Telecom). It covers not just the city of Edinburgh but the whole Lothian county in which it sits. And the new edition just arrived. So I have the Edinburgh and Lothian phone book on the table before me, beside the Edinburgh Festival Fringe catalog. I have compared them. I have numbers.

The two books both use extremely small fonts, tightly spaced as if paper was being strictly rationed. It isn't worth trying to do font measurements and character counts. Square footage is what counts (or square centimeters: it's metric over here).

The phone book has 513 pages of information (18 of front matter and 495 lists of business and residential phone numbers). Those pages are 16.5 cm by 29.5 cm (about 6' 5" by 11' 6"), for a total of 16.5 × 29.5 × 513 = 249,677 square centimeters of information.

The Fringe catalog uses a wider page size, 19.5 cm by 29.5 (about 7' 7" by 11' 6"), and there are 459 pages of information, for a total of 19.5 × 29.5 × 459 = 264,017 square centimeters.

The latter is 1.057 times bigger than the former.

The Fringe opens this Friday, August 4. Come to Edinburgh for a festival of the arts where the list of shows is bigger than the phone book — not just as a casual rhetorical figure of speech but literally.

And I don't mean literally as just a casual rhetorical figure of speech, but literally literally.

What, this doesn't seem linguistic enough for you? Perhaps I should mention that there are even linguistics events, starring colleagues of mine, as part of an event called the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas:

  • Professor Antonella Sorace, developmental linguist and psycholinguist in Linguistics and English Language, founder of the Bilingualism Matters Centre: "In Praise of Useless Languages." Monday 14 August, 1.50pm–2.50pm at New Town Theatre (George Street)
  • Dr Thomas Bak, neuroscientist, in Psychology: "Is Monolingualism Making Us Ill?" Wednesday 23 August, 8.20pm–9.20pm at New Town Theatre (George Street)

Nobody who is sensible and able to travel would want to miss the Fringe. Ben Yagoda of Lingua Franca, for example, is eminently sensible, and in London for a summer course, and free next weekend. He arrives in Edinburgh this coming Friday afternoon. We are going to have big fun.

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