imaging and linguistics

Finishing up a weekend of tasks related to the Martha Berry Digital Archive and one crucial step (which might be considered less significant than others but isn’t) which demands continual attention is the imaging process. Imaging of the Martha Berry Collection began at Berry several months ago, is being managed by a wonderful group of staff and students, and (given the size of the collection) will continue indefinitely. The creation of image derivatives, on the other hand, is a task managed remotely by the programmer and by me.

What does this mean? First, TIFFs and JPEGs. Document scans are saved initially by Berry staff as TIFF files; this format ensures high quality representation of the material source document. But TIFFs are large, so we don’t upload these image files to the digital archive; instead, we create compressed image derivatives: JPEGs. Managed manually, this would be a tedious, sigh inducing (or worse) process. Automated (and here’s where it gets good), the process is called transmogrification. In brief, we use a script to transmogrify TIFFs, generating (or in minecraft-ese, a jargon every parent of a gamer who has recently spent a rainy three-day holiday weekend alone with said gamer will know, spawning) JPEG derivatives. Transmogrification is quick and enables batch deriv generation so that we can upload lots of derivs to the archive at once while retaining the TIFFs to support preservation of the primary source documents.

OED-cited attestations indicate that the verb transmogrify and the derivative noun transmogrification carry pejorative meaning (see below), but in programming and artistic contexts, the term and its derivative, as well as the clipped variant mogrify (which is widely used in place of transmogrify with respect to imaging but has yet to make an appearance in the OED), shoulder no such semantic burden. From the perspective of someone who is working with many thousands of images, the terms and the process they describe are to be celebrated.

And, from a linguistic perspective, square in the midst of work on a digital archive and image derivs, an elegant example of semantic amelioration.

(here some suggest that mogrify is not a word but the c. 147,000 Google search returns tell a different story, as do the mogrified images I just uploaded to the archive, even if lexicographers haven’t yet caught up. But — I’m optimistic and will be keeping an even closer eye than usual on OED’s quarterly updates.)