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a piece of text which has been rearranged into a visual pattern of words
'Here's a wordle of the G20 communique, with support, financial and agreed (surely greed?) especially prominent.'politics.co.uk 2nd April 2009
In an era which has given us a makeover for our faces and homes, encouraged us to pimp our vehicles and Facebook profiles, or bling up our clothes, it seems that even plain old text is being given the once-over. Out with monotone and horizontal, and in with colour and quirky – enter the wordle.
wordles … have recently been popularly used to visualize the topical content of political speeches
A wordle is a visual depiction of the words contained in a piece of text, as exemplified within the citation above. Generated by a web-based tool of the same name, a wordle is created by manipulating the words of an input text and arranging them into a kind of graphic. The more frequent a particular word was within the source text, the bigger it's displayed in the wordle. Font and colour variation, as well as adding visual appeal, may also give weight to particular words, which are positioned vertically as well as horizontally.
Wordles, also sometimes referred to as word clouds or text clouds, have recently been popularly used to visualize the topical content of political speeches. For an example, check out this recent article in the New York Times, which features a wordle of President Obama's inaugural speech, and note the emphasis on words such as America, new, nation and every.
In the educational domain, teachers have been quick to pick up on the pedagogic value of wordles, which are particularly useful in language teaching as a text analysis tool. They can also be used to elicit speaking and creative writing (see Further reading, below).
If you want to have a go at creating your own wordles, check out www.wordle.net.
The Wordle tool, and thereby the word wordle, is the brainchild of Jonathan Feinberg, a senior software engineer at IBM. The tool's popularity and usefulness has led to recent nomination for a 'Webby' (an international award given to people involved in web design and web-based media).
Though unsubstantiated, it's my theory that inspiration for the term wordle came by blending word and doodle (a random pattern or picture drawn when thinking about other things). However the orthographic form wordle is not completely new, listed in Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) as describing a pivoted component of a die (device for cutting or moulding metal).
Underlying the wordle is the earlier concept of a tag cloud, a visual representation of the user-generated tags (keywords) describing the content of a particular website. Related expressions are data cloud (or cloud data), a data display using font size and colour to display numerical values, and collocate cloud, which gives a visual representation of the collocational patterns associated with a particular word.
This article was first published on 23rd April 2009.