Linguist Geoff Nunberg observes that, in the context of "gay marriage," "As a tactical move, thumping the dictionary has replaced thumping the Bible..." Read or hear his entire essay, broadcast on National Public Radio's Fresh Air, here.
National Public Radio picked up the Chronicle of Higher Education's story on digital dictionaries, and on 13 March 2013 "Talk of the Nation" host Neal Conan spoke with Merriam-Webster editor and DSNA member Peter Sokolowski about the phenomenon of "vocabulary events." You can read or listen to the story here.
This long article, appearing in the 11 March 2013 Chronicle of Higher Education, offers a detailed survey of issues related to digital dictionaries; the idea for the article originated with the panel organized by DSNA Past President Michael Hancher at the 2013 MLA conference. The essay is a lively, detailed and thoughtful introduction to lexicography in the 21st century. Author Jennifer Howard has interviewed many lexicographers and DSNA members, including Peter Sokolowski (left), Katherine Connor Martin, Ben Zimmer, Steve Kleinedler, Michael Rundell, Ingrid Goldstein, and Lisa Berglund.
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?
Two stories in last week's The New York Times feature contributions from DSNA members: you can read Grant Barrett's annual column on words of the year, an amusing, if dispiriting, 29-word summary of the last 12 months, here. Then, check out the intriguing story on a possible etymology for "the whole nine yards," which appeared in the Times the day after Christmas. Ben Zimmer (who was quoted in the article, along with fellow DSNA members Jesse Sheidlower and the late William Safire) has followed up with a discussion of the topic on his Word Routes column at the Visual Thesaurus. Of course, if you want to go the whole nine yards, check out the reader commentary on the Times piece, which is most remarkable for its cheerful refusal to accept the reported conclusions of word-sleuths Fred Shapiro and Bonnie Taylor-Blake.
In other word news, Oxford English Dictionaries apologized for the ghastly timing of its automated "word of the day" mailing, which sent out "bloodbath" as the word for 18 December, four days after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Meanwhile, word-of-the-year announcements continue, with "Gangnam Style" and "fiscal cliff" joining the queue at Collins. Editor Ian Brookes noted that "Gangnam Style" has a good chance of making it into the dictionary itself, given its notable association with K-pop star Psy's most-watched youtube video of all time.
The American Dialect Society, which gravely brings up the rear of the WOTY nominations, is still soliciting nominations: according to their website, "Nominations can be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, tweeted to the Twitter user name @americandialect or using the hashtag #woty12, or they can be posted on our Facebook page." ADS votes on the WOTY at the final session of its annual meeting, next Friday, January 4 at 5:30 pm in Boston.
And to wrap up my penultimate post of 2012, let me share the first few sentences of a news story
from the December 20 Orangeburg County [South Carolina] Times and Democrat:
An Orangeburg County man suffering from apparent mental issues was taken for treatment after parking his truck in the middle of the road, according to a Sheriff’s Office incident report.
Around 8 a.m. Tuesday, callers stated a Ford truck was parked in the roadway on Moncks Corner Road in Eutawville. Deputies found a man sitting in the driver’s seat reading a dictionary.
When asked why he had stopped in the roadway, he said Jesus had told him to do so, the report said. ...
And with that, on behalf of the Dictionary Society of North America, Happy New Year! I hope to see many of you in Boston at the DSNA reception on Saturday.
My Google alerts are overflowing with the doings of DSNA members:
Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large at Merriam Webster, reports that the most looked-up words in 2012 were capitalism and socialism, while malarkey enjoyed the biggest one-day spike. Here's one version of the story, from theChristian Science Monitor.
Check out this interview with American Heritage Dictionary Executive Editor Steve Kleinedler. He is talking with Robin Young on WBUR's program "Here and Now" about "Words We ‘Literally’ Want Out Of The Dictionary."
Meanwhile, in Athens, Georgia,
The Red and Black has a story on the lexicography course taught by our 2013 DSNA meeting host Don McCreary: check out this short feature now to whet your appetite for the 2012 volume of Dictionaries (to be published later this month), which includes Don's article on his students' ongoing project "Dawgspeak: The Slanguage Dictionary of the University of Georgia."
When I checked the Times this morning on my phone, there was DSNA member Ben Zimmer's column--the latest salvo in the blogospherical contention over Robert Burchfield's editorial practice as purportedly reported in Sarah Ogilvie's new book The Words of the World. And what was the headline? Well, on my phone I was greeted with "Lies! Murder! Lexicography! Dictionary!" Wow!!!! But on the New York Times website accessed on my computer just now, the headline is the much tamer: "Lies! Murder! Lexicography!"
What happened to "Dictionary!" ?
Very mysterious--though not, arguably, a universally intriguing aspect of this story. Ben's column retraces the uproar following the characterization of Sarah Ogilvie's book on OED in an article published by The Guardian last Monday, and he quotes DSNA members Jesse Sheidlower (an editor at OED, cited here last week) and Kory Stamper (an editor at Merriam Webster and author of the Harmless Drudgery blog) on the unglamorous truths the dictionary business. Ben writes:
"And dictionaries do play a role in legitimate controversies, like the continuing political battle over defining 'marriage.' Lexicographers may want to stay away from such contentious issues, but the authoritative power of their dictionaries means they’re inevitably caught up in such definitional wars — even as they try to stay above the fray and describe language without worrying about the sensitivities of one side or another in a political dispute."
The Atlantic Wire also has a story, by the way, that quotes both Jesse Sheidlower's New Yorker essay and an interview with DSNA vice president Michael Adams: you can read it here.
The eloquent defenses penned by Ben and Jesse and other DSNA members share the blogosphere with new, heated permutations on the original Guardian story. Here's a typical headline from this morning roundup: "Former Oxford Dictionary editor secretly deleted Indian words" (The Indian Express).
I don't think we've been this hot and bothered since Philip Gove (allegedly) gave "ain't" the okay.
The blogosphere continues to buzz with what DSNA member Jesse Sheidlower, writing for the New Yorker Culture Desk, calls a "bogus" interpretation of Sarah Ogilvie's study of Robert Burchfield's work at OED. Choosing which words to include in the OED supplement "was not deletion, it was editing," Sheidlower writes. He concludes his post: "In fact, Ogilvie’s book itself is rather different from how it was portrayed in the Guardian story. It is a sober analysis of the approaches to loanwords taken by various O.E.D. editors, and does not attribute malice to Robert Burchfield’s rational editorial decisions. It does exactly what a work of historical scholarship should do: provide a close analysis of editorial decisions, and interpret them. It is a damfool shame that the media chose to exaggerate one aspect of this to create a controversy where none existed."