This week the blogosphere is responding with bemused appreciation to the initial results of CollinsDictionary.com's crowd-sourcing. Taking a tip from the original Oxford English Dictionary, which more than a century ago recruited contributions from word-enthusiasts, Collins editors invited the public to submit words for review and possible inclusion. In the first two months, more than 4,400 words were proposed, according to a press release. Editors selected 86.
Browsing the list of these new words, I was struck by the format for each entry that CollinsDictionary.com is employing. Since at least the 18th century, a dictionary entry typically has included the word to be defined, the part of speech, labels, and a definition. Sometimes entries offer a guide to pronunciation, etymology, synonyms, and an example of usage (in the case of historical dictionaries, evidence of when, where and how the word was used in the past).
CollinsDictionary.com entries for the words on the crowd-sourced list supply a definition, part of speech, and some labels... plus a "Sponsored Links" section, and a "Comment" section (which includes the username of the person who proposed the word). In many cases, the Links and Comment sections are blank. I guess I am relieved that there is no Sponsored Link for "mummy porn" or "geekism,", but still, the blank space creates an oddly forlorn effect, as if a word doesn't have any friends.
Maybe what makes Sponsored words popular is that they are concrete--or can be perceived as such. Look up the definition of "shabby chic" and Google will invite you to check out Shabby Chic decor, Shabby Chic painted furniture and (one shudders to think) Shabby Chic mattresses. Wondering what "K-pop" means, you find your attention directed to K-pop radio and Toyota Camrys.
Is this lexicographical shopping list so much different from Samuel Johnson's listing the word-sponsors, as it were, in his abridged Dictionary of the English Language? After all, look up a word there and you will see, after the definition, a list of the names who brought it to you:
So Dr. Johnson observed in his Preface to A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755; now a team of physicists and economists have published a study of the statistical patterns governing this growth cycle, based on the corpus of GoogleBooks. They examine the life cycles of words in English, Spanish and Hebrew. I did try to read the article, which is available in Scientific Reports, but it was way over my head. The graphs are a bit easier to follow. And here's a link to an article for us lay-folk, in the Wall Street Journal. Reporter Christopher Shea comments:
The authors even identified a universal "tipping point" in the life cycle of new words: Roughly 30 to 50 years after their birth, they either enter the long-term lexicon or tumble off a cliff into disuse. The authors suggest that this may be because that stretch of decades marks the point when dictionary makers approve or disapprove new candidates for inclusion. Or perhaps it's generational turnover: Children accept or reject their parents' coinages.
Cambridge University Press has just published Samuel Johnson in Context, a collection of 47 short essays about the great lexicographer and his world. The book, which is aimed at a college and general audience, is edited by DSNA member Jack Lynch (also author of The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of English from Shakespeare to South Park ).Lynda Mugglestone contributes an article on "Dictionaries" and yours truly (Lisa Berglund) the introductory chapter on "Life." Visit the Cambridge UP website for a complete table of contents.
The blogs are reporting that Google has replaced Google Dictionary with a looking-up function integrated into web search. Here's one account of the innovation. Lamentation and gnashing of teeth may be heard on the Google support forum, but then, as Dr. Johnson says, "All change is of itself an evil..."
The play “A Dish of Tea with Dr Johnson” is being revived for a week at the Edinburgh Festival in August, and a few weeks in London’s West End in September. It stars Ian Redford in a much-praised performance as Johnson, with Russell Barr playing many characters (from Johnson’s biographer James Boswell, to King George III and Flora Macdonald); and Trudie Styler as Hester Thrale, Johnson’s final and unrequited love. A fox terrier is featured as Hodge the cat (the best example to date of non-traditional casting!). Performance dates and other information is available on the play's website.
A friend forwarded the following repurposing of Samuel Johnson's famous advice to James Boswell, from the webpage of LifeCoach Melody Williams:
MOMENT OF GROWTH: Week 6
“Clear your mind of can’t” (Samuel Johnson)
You can do it. You have a dream. Others may try to tell you you can’t do it. There are many negative thinkers out there. They may blow a “cold wind” on your dreams. But you don’t have to let them. If this happens and negative creeps into your mind remind yourself very intentionally that it is their problem and that indeed YOU CAN DO IT.
Those who have been persuaded to think well of my design, require that it should fix our language, and put a stop to those alterations which time and chance have hitherto been suffered to make in it without opposition. With this consequence I will confess that I flattered myself for a while; but now begin to fear that I have indulged expectation which neither reason nor experience can justify. When we see men grow old and die at a certain time one after another, from century to century, we laugh at the elixir that promises to prolong life to a thousand years; and with equal justice may the lexicographer be derided, who being able to produce no example of a nation that has preserved their words and phrases from mutability, shall imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language, and secure it from corruption and decay, that it is in his power to change sublunary nature, or clear the world at once from folly, vanity, and affectation.
Here's a review of a play about the great Cham, currently on stage in Ashford, U.K. and then going on tour. It sounds like fun, although I am dismayed to learn that Hodge is played by a Jack Russell terrier.
A copy of the first edition of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language in the original boards has set an auction record at Christie's. The Antiques Trade Gazettereports:
"The re-appearance at auction of a stunning copy in a wholly unrestored original binding at Christie's on October 27 was always likely to become a defining moment in terms of auction records.
"Uncut in original half-sheep and comb-marbled boards, this was the copy that in 1975 was bought from the House of El Dieff for $9000 by Haven O'Moore, and then sold for $60,000 when his spectacular 'Garden' library was dispersed by Sotheby's New York in 1989. This time it was offered as part of Ladislaus von Hoffmann's 'Arcana Collection', and the price was a record £130,000.
"The previous best had been the $140,000 (then £94,710) paid for a copy, unusually bound as three volumes in original sheep-backed boards, in the Abel Berland library, sold at Christie's New York in 2001."
Today we celebrate the 270th birthday of James Boswell, the biographer of Samuel Johnson. In tribute, here are two anecdotes about the Dictionary of the English Language, from The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.:
His introducing his own opinions, and even prejudices, under general definitions of words, while at the same time the original meaning of the words is not explained, as his Tory, Whig, Pension, Oats, Excise and a few more, cannot be fully defended, and must be placed to the account of capricious and humourous indugence. Talking to me upon this subject when we were at Ashbourne in 1777, he mentioned a still stronger instance of the predominance of his private feelings in the composition of this work, than any now to be found in it. "You know, Sir, Lord Gower forsook the old Jacobite interest. When I came to the word Renegado, after telling it meant 'one who deserts to the enemy, a revolter,' I added, Sometimes we say a GOWER." Thus it went to the press; but the printer had more wit than I , and struck it out."
Dr. Johnson ... said, that "he always felt an inclination to do nothing." I observed, that it was strange to think that the most indolent man in Britain had written the most laborious work, The English Dictionary.