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.
Michael Hancher reports: "Digital Dictionaries," a session organized for the recent MLA convention by the Discussion Group on Lexicography, traced the evolution of dictionaries from page to pixel. The three presentations that made up most of this session were reported or commented on via Twitter by more than a dozen people, some of whom were not even in the room (one was in the UK). Ben Zimmer, editor of the Visual Thesaurus, who gave one of the presentations, later organized the program listing and the 79 tweets in a legible format. Journalist Colleen Ross interviewed Ben and Merriam-Webster Editor- at-large Peter Sokolowski by phone and posted an account and a podcast at her blog, Word of Mouth. Vox audita perit, littera scripta manet?
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.
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."
The Macquarie Dictionary, a lexicon of Australian English, is expanding the definition of "misogyny" to include "entrenched prejudice against women." The editorial change was prompted by a parlimentary debate in which Prime Minister Julia Gillard used the word to characterize opposition leader Tony Abbott. Her speech went viral; here's a clip in a news report on Reuters. The blogs have weighed in on the Macquarie Dictionary's response, too, with familar prescriptivist distress.
The Oxford English Dictionary announces the launch of OED Appeals, a major online initiative set to involve the public in tracing the history of English words. Using a dedicated community space on the OED website, editors are soliciting help in unearthing new information about the history and usage of English, including the earliest examples of particular words. The website will enable the public to post evidence in direct response to OED editors online, fostering a collective effort to record the English language and find the true roots of our vocabulary. Appeals will be posted to the website on a frequent basis. Some of the entries the OED team is initially asking the public’s help with include bellini, blue-arsed fly, come in from the cold, disco, FAQ, in your dreams!, cooties, and Kwanzaa.
The blogs are buzzing with the news that Merriam-Webster has added the word "f-bomb" to its Collegiate Dictionary; associate editor Kory Stamper traces the euphemism to a 1988 Newsday story in which Mets catcher Gary Carter spoke of giving up profanity. And how do you like this photo from the website 7 Days in Dubai, which depicts a pair of hollowed-out dictionaries being used to smuggle marijuana? (Sorry I couldn't post the photo here.) Yet people say that electronic media will make the paper dictionary obsolete... You can see why I'm indexing this post as "practical lexicography."
According to this story in the Huffington Post: New Hampshire resident Mike Raven is using Change.org to petition for a revision of the definition of marriage on dictionary.com. He is seeking more prominent placement for a definition that encompasses same-sex marriage, characterizing the current definition as "separate but equal, but not even." Reporter Amanda Terkel reports he's gathered about 5,000 signatures so far.
Alternatively, he could just to buy a new dictionary...