Nobody said that then! (Continued)
The New Yorker - 02/25/2014
After complaining recently about language anachronisms in Showtime’s (otherwise excellent) “Masters of Sex,” I lamented thusly: “There are no production designers for language, but there ought to be.”
I’ve since learned that there are some: one is Ben Schmidt, a thirty-three-year-old historian at Northeastern University. Schmidt managed to get paid for performing this service for the makers of “Vegas,” starring Dennis Quaid, which ran on CBS for twenty-one episodes, in 2012 and 2013.
What Schmidt did for “Vegas” was to run the scripts through his Anachronism Machine, which sounds like a device from a Philip K. Dick hallucination about time travel but is actually a computer program, or an algorithm, or something similarly exotic. As I understand it (and my understanding is a few kilobytes short of a megabyte), when Schmidt fires up the Anachronism Machine and feeds a script into it, it maps the script’s words and phrases against a Google database consisting of the full texts of six million books and spits out a graphical rendering of the likely anachronisms the script is guilty of. The machine isn’t perfect—it doesn’t catch everything, it yields a certain amount of false positives, and it requires human interpretation. But so does a CT scan.