Friday, November 28, 2008

Why turn your poem into an alien?


There is some discussion on read write poem about — who would have thought! — words. "Obscure" words in poems are double-edged swords: they can be just the "right" word in the right place, or they could send the reader grumbling to the dictionary. Making the reader do that too often may not be good for business — some say. Allusions, such as cultural artifacts or historical names, can pose the same or even greater problem.

But if your poem sits in a blog and not in a book, there is a simple technical solution. Consider the following couplet and the "code" behind it:

Why turn your poem into an alien?
It looks like a sesquipedalian!

Why turn your poem into an alien?
It looks like a

<span title="Given to the use of long words" style="color: #333333;">sesquipedalian</span>!



When the curious reader sends his mouse to sit on top of sesquipedalian in the couplet (try it), the definition will appear in a text box. No need to run to or search a dictionary.

Here is a more functional version of the above couplet:

Why turn your poem into an alien?
It looks like a sesquipedalian!

Why turn your poem into an alien?
It looks like a

<a href="http://www.thefreedictionary.com/sesquipedalian" style="text-decoration: none;"><span title="Given to the use of long words" style="color: #333333;">sesquipedalian</span></a>!



What is different in this version is that, in addition to giving the reader the definition in a box, when sesquipedalian is clicked, a dictionary page is revealed. The same idea works even better for "obscure" allusions.

There are more advanced webby ways (Cascading Style Sheets) to accomplish fancier things (e.g. prettier pop-ups), but it is as simple as this using "style"s and "span"s. The color #333333 (which happens to be the color of my blog's standard text) was used to color sesquipedalian to make it seem like nothing is going on, until the curious reader's mouse sniffs around it. But anything goes. Of course when the poem is printed, all help is lost.