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.
The manuscript of a 212-year-old dictionary written by a British polymath employed by the East India Company in the late 18th century has been found in the British Library.
The dictionary, Comparative Vocabularies, was written in 1800 by Dr Francis Buchanan-Hamilton (1762-1829), who was a surgeon to the governor-general Lord Wellesley in Calcutta. The book includes 18,000 words--1,800 words in each of 10 Indian languages.
A Scottish physician, in 1794 Buchanan-Hamilton was appointed a surgeon with the East India Company. He explored Burma, Chittagong, the Andaman Islands, Nepal and North Bengal and Bihar, and made detailed surveys of botany, geography, agriculture, commerce, social conditions and culture. His published works include An Account of the Fishes Found in the River Ganges and its Branches (1822), which describes over 100 species not formerly recognised scientifically; A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar (1807) and An Account of the Kingdom of Nepal(1819). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1806.
Here's a link to the wire story as it appeared in the Hindustan Times.
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."
Sarah Ogilvie's book Words of the World (forthcoming from Cambridge next month) has the blogs buzzing with her description of how the late Robert Burchfield, the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary in the 1970s and 1980s, removed up to 17 percent of the loanwords and world English words that had been included in 1933 by editor Charles Onions.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Ogilvie reports:
"I was the editor of the OED responsible for words from outside Europe and while editing these words I noticed a pattern that went against the general consensus: there were thousands of foreign words and words from varieties of English around the world in the dictionary and they had been put there by editor James Murray and his fellow editors.
"The irony of the whole story is that although in the beginning the dictionary editors were criticised for putting too many 'outlandish' words in the dictionary that were 'decaying' our language, one hundred years later they were criticised for the opposite: for too many British words in the dictionary and not enough foreign words!
"But it turns out that this was a myth perpetuated by a 20th-century Chief Editor of the OED."
Geoff Nunberg reports on the cultural significance of the controversial dictionary. I particularly liked his observation that it was Philip Gove's "fate to become the only American lexicographer whose name could appear in a New Yorker cartoon caption without need of further identification." You can read the story, "When Words were Worth Fighting Over," or listen to it, here.
I've finally caught up with the new Lexicography Society at Columbia, whose messages about lively meetings and speakers have been mysteriously routed to my spam filter! But no more: I am happy to pass along the news that DSNA members Jesse Sheidlower and Madeline Kripke will be speaking this Friday, 17 February, on SCANDALOUSLY SEXY DICTIONARIES: SLANG LEXICOGRAPHY AND THE HISTORY OF THE F-WORD.Jesse Sheidlower will discuss the history of slang lexicography and the incorporation of obscenities in particular. Madeline Kripke will be showcasing some special items from her collection of over 15,000 volumes. Their presentation will take place from 1:00 to 3:00 pm in 709 Hamilton Hall, at Columbia (off Amsterdam Avenue). For more information on the Lexicography Society's meetings, contact the organization's founder and convener, Yin Yin Lu.
The Visual Thesaurus has published an enthusiastic reflection on the late Richard Bailey's book Speaking American. Richard Bailey was a fellow of the Dictionary Society and a former editor of the society's journal Dictionaries. Language columnist Mark Peters writes that Speaking American is "one of those books I wish I could make every prescriptivist grouch in the world read." He also praises "the inspiring scope" of Bailey's project, and "the power of his prose." Speaking Americanwas published by Oxford UP in December 2011.
"Digital Dictionaries." Call for papers, Modern Language Association annual convention, Boston, January 3-6, 2013; Lexicography Discussion Group.
Dictionaries once stood apart, as bound paper; now they gloss digital text digitally. Who uses which ones? Who compiles them? How good are they? What difference does it make? Abstracts by March 1, 2012, to Michael Hancher.