T IS with great sadness that the friends and colleagues of Paul Heacock announce his death on Saturday, October 17, following a long illness. He was 59.
Paul was hired as a contractor by Cambridge University Press in 1992 to work on the Cambridge International Dictionary of English, and became a full-time staff member in 1994. Working first under Sidney Landau, and then leading the division, Paul expanded Cambridge's range of dictionaries for learners of English. An "early adopter" of technology before there was such a term, Paul drove the digital management of dictionary assets, the development of the Press's extensive corpus holdings, and the integration of corpus research into Cambridge ELT (English Language Teaching) products. Learners across the globe now benefit from his foresight in developing Cambridge Dictionaries Online in partnership with IDM.
Paul accomplished all this with a matchless combination of grace under pressure, creativity, humor, diplomacy, abiding optimism, and indeed playfulness. We will sorely miss him.
Our thoughts are with Paul's family. Those who wish to send condolences and remembrances may write to Wendalyn Nichols, who will ensure they are included in a book of tributes being collected by the Press for the family: email@example.com, subject line: Tribute to Paul Heacock.
ECENTLY, at the biannual meeting of the Dictionary Society of North America, a vote to change our constitution was taken--and passed by a very wide margin--revising the language of the society's definition of joint membership.
The change reflects the society's wish to remove restrictive definitions specifying the sex of joint members. Before the amendment, the constitution explained Joint Membership thus: "e.g. husband and wife."
The section defining categories of membership now reads: "The categories of membership are Regular, Joint (e.g., member and partner or spouse), Student, Retired, Life, and Institutional."
The DSNA carried out this reform weeks before the Supreme Court struck down laws restricting same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.
The primary definition of membership is perhaps worth revisiting: "Membership in the DSNA shall be open to any person interested in the purposes of the Corporation. These include fostering scholarly and professional activities relating to dictionaries, lexicography and lexicology. It shall carry these out by promoting the exchange of information and ideas among members by holding meetings, by encouraging research projects, by means of publications (newsletters, journals, bibliographies, directories and the like) and by any other appropriate means. Membership shall consist of those who have paid to the Executive Secretary of the Corporation the full current dues required by their category of membership."
In case you haven't read the DSNA constitution recently, you can find it here.
(The initial letter for this posting comes from The Dictionary of Syr Thomas Eliot (1538).)
Fred Shapiro, DSNA member and associate director at the Yale Law School Library, has discovered an instance of the term "African-American" from 1782, pushing back the OED's first-usage date over half a century; previous to this discovery the OED had listed an 1835 abolitionist newspaper as the earliest use of the term.
This advertisement in The Pennsylvania Journal on May 15, 1782 announced the publication of an anonymous volume of sermons.
In an article on the shortfall of DARE's budget, Time calls the Dictionary of American Regional English at the University of Wisconsin "one of that school’s greatest contributions to American history." By now, most DSNA members have probably already heard that this summer the DSNA budget will have fallen to 20% of the previous annual budgets.
Perhaps the "logic" of shrinking the DARE budget is a legacy of the era of print publishing, when (supposedly) the completion of print volumes sometimes meant the dissolution of the editorial offices. But in the digital era it is vital to keep dictionaries current on a real-time basis--it's not as though DARE has nothing more to contribute. While DARE represents a "monumental work of scholarship"--as the Allan Metcalfe's recent Lingua Franca blog in the Chronicle of Higher Education describes it--DARE should not be allowed to fade into the status of a monument to past labors. There remains a great deal of good work to be done on a continuing basis.
So, what is to be done? Here are a few suggestions:
Stefan Fatsis is back with another thoughtful and amusing piece on dictionaries and popular culture. His January 31 New Yorker article, "Panic at the Dictionary," takes on the prescriptivist/descriptivist wars fought in the early 1960s with the release of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. Webster's Third allowed previously sanctioned words such as "irregardless," and howls of protest arose from newspapers, magazines, and critics.
Fatsis reports that a similar furore has arisen with recent editions of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Apparently people have been noticing that all sorts of words have gone missing. Expunged words include almond, blackberry, minnow, budgerigar, moss, fern, buttercup, saint, chapel, psalm, nun,vicar, and doubtless many more. At the same time, many "new" words have appeared, many of them referring to modern technology and media--also a shock to those who grieve at the supplanting of the countryside or the spiritual by sophisticated and addictive gadgetry.
But Fatsis offers strong arguments in support of the descriptivist position. For one thing, he writes, dictionaries are a zero-sum game. Dictionary publishing is a business, and the product must be attractive to the prospective user. If new words go in--and they must, to keep the work relevant--some old words must go out. Moreover, the Oxford Junior Dictionary has not really come down on the side of technology vs. nature. As Fatsis eloquently puts it, "The job of the editors of the Oxford Junior Dictionary is no more to get children off of screens and into the woods than it is to reverse global warming or reform FIFA."
Writing in Slate on January 12, Stefan Fatsis--the author of Word Freak, A Few Seconds of Panic, a regular contributor to NPR's All Things Considered, panelist of NPR's sports podcast Hang Up and Listen, and DSNA member--reports on Merriam-Webster's revision of "its most authoritative tome for the digital age." But, the article asks, "in an era of twerking and trolling, what should a dictionary look like? (And do we even need one?)"
"We turn now to a story about language..." With these words, an acknowledged stock phrase on NPR, Rachel Martin (Sunday Weekend Edition host) introduced a fascinating interview with Orin Hargraves on the care and upkeep of cliches (Sunday morning, January 11, 2015). Who better to inform the public than DSNA stalwart Orin Hargraves, author of It's Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches (Oxford University Press, 2014)?
On Friday, January 9, 2015, at the MLA conference in Vancouver, Lisa Berglund (SUNY-Buffalo State) chaired a roundtable on "Teaching with the OED." The program was arranged by the Discussion Group on Lexicography. The topic of the session was "Strategies for using the Oxford English Dictionary in literature, creative writing, linguistics, and history of the English language courses."
The program included:
Kate Levin (Barnard College): “Great Things of Small…We Can Create”: Using the OED to Teach Paradise Lost."
Elizabeth Dyrud Lyman (Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville): "Gravity! The Infinite Proliferation of Ideas: Using Metaphor to Activate Audience Imagination."
J. Lawrence Mitchell (Texas A&M University): "The OED in HEL."
Rachel Norman (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill): "A high-tech dictionary in the classroom: Getting students excited about etymology."
David Silva and Laurel Stvan (University of Texas-Arlington): "Engaged Etymologies: Active Learning in the Teaching of Word Formation and Etymology."
Tara Williams (Oregon State University): "The OED as Object, Entertainment, and Dictionary in the Literature Classroom."
On February 12, 2014, Peter Sokolowski will be featured at the New York Public Library's author@the library series--6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Mid-Manhattan Library.
The Dictionary as Data: What the Online Dictionary Tells Us About English, with Peter A. Sokolowski, Editor at Large at Merriam-Webster, Inc.
What makes a person look up a word? When do you use a dictionary? Looking up a word in the dictionary is an intimate act for each of us as individuals, but the words sought by millions of users put together tell us a surprising story about the English language. By watching trends of lookups on a heavily consulted online dictionary, lexicographers track which entries are being consulted at any given moment. Some words are perennial sources of curiosity, while others show spikes of interest triggered by news from the worlds of politics, entertainment, and sports. Some words express the general mood of the culture; others reflect a poignant specificity. At the same time, this Web traffic tells a story about the changing business of dictionaries -- and what is expected of a dictionary in the 21st century.
DSNA member John Simpson is retiring after 20 years as the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Oxford University Press has announced his retirement from his post effective October 2013. John joined the OED editorial staff in 1976, and became co-editor with Edmund Weiner in 1985. He was appointed chief editor in 1993, the seventh OED editor since Sir James Murray’s appointment in 1879. Under John’s editorship, over 60,000 new words and meanings have been added to the OED.
For more than 35 years John has contributed to one of the world's largest and longest-running scholarly projects during a time of great change. During the 1980s the entire OED text, comprising the First Edition (1884-1928) and its Supplement (1972-86), was digitized as an integrated single text. This work laid the foundations for the publication of the twenty-volume Second Edition in 1989 and the launch of OED Online in 2000.
Effective 1 November 2013, Michael Proffitt, the current editorial project director, will serve as chief editor of OED, responsible for leading decision-making on style, policy, and strategy. Philip Durkin, currently principal etymologist, will become eeputy chief editor alongside existing Deputy Chief Editor Edmund Weiner
My headline comes from an interview with John published in Time, which you can read here.