DSNA member and lexicographer Christine Ammer was interviewed on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" today, about the more than 10,000 phrases defined in the new American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Here's a link to the website of WBFO in Buffalo (where DSNA hangs its hat); you can listen to the interview and check out some of the idioms that Ammer highlights in her discussion with radio host Renee Montagne.
The Sacramento Bee has a story today about DSNA member Herbert Purnell's recently published Mien-English dictionary; you may recall reading an excerpt from the lexicon in the "Reference Works in Progress" section of Dictionaries 28 (2009). According to the article in the Bee, Purnell's dictionary is "an 855-page compendium of more than 5,600 words, 28,000 phrases and 2,100 cultural notes laced with myths, poetry and ceremonies."
The Mien language initially survived because the people lived in an isolated area of Laos, but it did not have a written form. According to Purnell, "In 1982, 80 Mien leaders met in Portland, Ore., to create a new romanized, nonsectarian Mien script to help the Mien become more literate."
The Mien-English dictionary took Purnell 26 years to complete--his next project is an English-Mien lexicon. For the entire story, click here.
Criminals continue to employ innocent lexicons to hide their stash. Most recently, according to the Oak Park River Forest Patch, a Concordia University student was arrested for having concealed 16 marijuana-filled baggies in a Hebrew-English dictionary. Don't these folks realize that carrying a paper dictionary nowdays is already suspicious conduct?
The Washington Post has drawn our attention to an extremely interesting article published on the Social Science Research network, by James J. Budney and Lawrence Baum: "Oasis or Mirage: The Supreme Court's Thirst for Dictionaries in the Rehnquist and Roberts Eras." Here is an abbreviated version of their abstract:
The Supreme Court’s use of dictionaries, virtually non-existent before 1987, has dramatically increased during the Rehnquist and Roberts Court eras to the point where as many as one-third of statutory decisions invoke dictionary definitions. The increase is linked to the rise of textualism and its intense focus on ordinary meaning…
the Court’s patterns of dictionary usage reflect a casual form of opportunistic conduct: the justices almost always invoke one or at most two dictionaries, they have varied individual brand preferences from which they often depart, they seem to use general and legal dictionaries interchangeably, and they lack a coherent position on citing to editions from the time of statutory enactment versus the time the instant case was filed.
The Article then [offers] an innovative functional analysis of how the justices use dictionaries: as way stations when dictionary meanings are indeterminate or otherwise unhelpful; as ornaments when definitions are helpful but of marginal weight compared with more traditional resources like the canons, precedent, legislative history, or agency deference; and as barriers that preclude inquiry into or reliance on other contextual resources, especially legislative history and agency guidance.
Ornamental opinions (the largest category) typically locate dictionary analysis at the start of the Court’s reasoning, subtly conveying that the lexicographic method should matter more than other interpretive resources. Barrier opinions would have been inconceivable prior to 1987 but now occur with disturbing frequency: they elevate the justices’ reliance on definitions in a radically acontextual manner, ignoring persuasive interpretive evidence from the enactment process and from agency experience.
…our findings demonstrate that the image of dictionary usage as heuristic and authoritative is a mirage. This contrast between the exalted status ascribed to dictionary definitions and the highly subjective way the Court uses them in practice reflects insufficient attention to the inherent limitations of dictionaries, limitations that have been identified by other scholars and by some appellate judges. Further, the justices’ subjective dictionary culture is likely to mislead lawyers faced with the responsibility to construct arguments for the justices to review.
The Article concludes by offering a three-step plan for the Court to develop a healthier approach to its dictionary habit.