Front Matter Friday

Friendly Guides and Well-Traveled Roads

41HUYYz9+aL._SL500_
The WNWDAL

I missed “Scripture Sunday.” I missed “Text Tuesday.” I even missed “Word Wednesday.” I’m a bad person. I have a good excuse, though: I got a job! I will not, however, let gainful employment stand in the way of Front Matter Friday (FMF). In fact, I’ll even give it to you a day early because the workplace gods have smiled upon me and I have the day off.

This week’s installment of FMF comes from my favorite general dictionary: Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, College Edition (World Publishing Co. 1966). I’m not really sure why I prefer this dictionary to the others at my disposal. I suppose it’s a lot of little things, such as the layout, the typeface, the fact that it never let’s me down, etc. However, now that I’ve read the dictionary’s “Foreward,” I know why it’s editors think it’s the bees knees. Here’s what they have to say*. As usual, my comments on the text follow.

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Foreward
Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, College Edition

As this edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary is being prepared to go to press, the editors are systematically including in the plate proofs the death dates of recently deceased notables, new terms and senses resulting from the latest technological advancements, and such other challenges and additions as last-minute developments make necessary.

This final gesture in the interest of up-to-dateness is a rather symbolic one, a logical extension of the lexicographic principles that have guided the editors in the preparation of this work. For just as historical and scientific concepts refuse to remain fixed, unyielding entities, so too a living language will not permit itself to be immutably pinned down1. The excellent dictionaries of Dr. [Samuel] Johnson and Nathaniel Bailey, remarkable thought they were in their days2, have little more pertinence for the present-day reader of the New York Times that the alchemical writings of Roger Bacon have for a nuclear physicist.

EMWardDrJohnson
Johnson in some knucklehead’s anteroom.

Not only could the earlier dictionaries have no knowledge of dilantin, snorkel, betatron, cortisone, ACTH, cybernetics, and vibraphone, but they would be of no help uncovering the meanings of extrapolate, parking meter, iron curtain, cold war, simulcast, and hot-foot. Moreover, even those senses of words that have continued currency from the time of Dr. Johnson to the present are in the earlier dictionaries defined in a language that falls strangely on 20th century ears3.

Recognizing that modern lexicography is a disciplined science, [the scholars and editorial workers who compiled this dictionary] were nevertheless determined to avoid the dogmatism that led Devil’s Dictionary author Ambrose Bierce to define dictionary as “a malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic.4” This dictionary was not create the impression that it was authoritarian, laying down the law about usage; it was to play, rather, the role of a friendly guide, pointing out the safe, well-traveled roads.5

Abierce
Bierce

Webster’s New World Dictionary … is neither an abridgement nor a revision of some earlier work. It is a new dictionary in which every definition has been written afresh in the simplest language consistent with accuracy and fullness.6

In choosing the words to be entered and defined, the editors used as their criterion the frequency of occurrence in contemporary American usage and in readings generally required of college and university students insofar as it could be determined. As a result, the dictionary contains over 142,000 vocabulary entries, more than any other comparable American desk dictionary. All entries are arranged in a single alphabetical list, so that there is no need to leaf through numerous supplements and prefatory lists, as well as the dictionary proper, to find such entries as Isaiah, Charlemagne, Atlantic, John Bull, viz., F.O.B., OHG., a priori, and coup de grace.

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Commentary:

1) It’s true, living languages keep growing. New words are added all the time and some even end up in a dictionary.

2) Legend has it that, in 1746, a group of publishers approached Johnson with an idea about creating an authoritative dictionary of the English language. A contract with William Strahan (Scottish printer and publisher) and associates was signed on June 18, 1746. Johnson’s dictionary was not the first, but it was the most commonly used and imitated for the 150 years between its first publication and the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1928.

Bailey was the author of several dictionaries, including his Universal Etymological Dictionary, which appeared in 1721. His Dictionarium Britannicum (1730 and 1736) is said to be the primary resource mined by Johnson his dictionary.

3) It’s true. To get an idea of what the writer is speaking about here, check out this definition of “raccoon” from Dr. Johnson’s dictionary, which I included in a previous post about the name of the animal.

4) I looked but I couldn’t find any other snarky snaps about dictionaries from commentators like Bierce. I did however, find a few comments that shed some light on why Bierce wou have such a toxic take on these tomes. As Jonathon Green writes in Chasing the Sun,

The task of lexicography might, when viewed with the jaundiced eye, entail a good deal of drudgery, but like even the lowliest of parish priests, its practitioner remained the guardian of the sacred truths, the conduit that delivered them to the unversed masses.

Green also includes the thoughts of British poet and writer Rod Mengham, who notes that, in the 17th and 18th centuries:

The compiling of a dictionary … entailed an exercising of authority on an unprecedented scale. The lexicographer would determine what be included in, and what should be excluded from, a body of knowledge that the pragmatic user of his work would learn to regard as the foundation of the national language and culture…. The dictionary could become an instrument of social control, dispensed indirectly and fostering assumptions that need not be insisted on too forcibly.

Clearly, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump these ideas about lexicographers to prescriptivism.

5) This paragraph references, once again, the ongoing debate over prescriptive and descriptive dictionaries; that is, whether dictionaries ought to prescribe how the words in English ought to be used rather than describe how the words that comprise the English language are being used. The former (prescriptivists) are seen by their opponents as stodgy, anal-retentive types who fear the debasement of the language and (by extension) the decay of the social fabric, while the latter (descriptivists) are seen by their opponents as lacking in standards and guilty of shirking their duties as guardians of our remarkable tongue. (For more on this, see the link above and Kory Stamper’s Word by Word).

This is not to say, however, that there isn’t a “third way.” Think of it as a middle-of-the-road approach that allows lexicographers to stay abreast of the new terms making their way into the lexicon, while still calling attention to the more traditional uses or, at the very least, pointing out which words are best suited for particular situations (i.e., maybe don’t use “ain’t” in court or while defending your dissertation), hence the notion of “pointing out the safe, well-traveled roads.”

6) As referenced in the previous installment of Front Matter Friday, dictionary publishers are out to make a buck, which is why their editors go to great lengths to let folks know how their dictionary stands out from the lexicographical herd. Hence the editor of this volume making it known that this is indeed a “new dictionary” and not a previous release dressed in a new jacket, that the words this “college edition” contains will likely be encountered by actual college students, and, of course, that it is simultaneously authoritative and easy to use. More of this commercial speak can be found in these old-timey dictionary advertisements.

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* Naturally, the Foreward is long and I’m not about to key-in the entire piece. If you’d like to read it in it’s entirety, check it out.

Front Matter Friday

From Bleak Compendium to Agreeable Companion

b494bb4e4c5e06dac49fbe5d63709bd00fab0a77If digging into the definitions and etymologies of words for mere shits and giggles wasn’t enough of an advertisement for my uncoolness, consider this: I like to read dictionary introductions. I know what you’re thinking. “What’s the matter, Joe, can’t find any golf to watch on the TV?”

Point taken. Admittedly, dictionary introductions can be rather dull affairs. Every so often, though, I come across one so full of attitude, opinion, and (dare I say) snark, that it deserves to be the subject of its own post. Hence the following (and first!) installment of “Front Matter Friday,” a new feature on The Butter Lamb offering  excerpts from dictionary introductions … err … on Friday, along with some commentary by yours truly. Yup, Friday just got better!

This week’s installment comes from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1969). Not only does this introduction demonstrate the editors’ passion for dictionary authorship and general word nerd-ism, but it also contains some interesting ideas and phrases that reveal the editors’ beliefs about 1) the role dictionaries ought to play in society and 2) their competition in the book-seller’s marketplace.

Enjoy.

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Introduction:
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1969)

… At a time when the language, already a historical melting pot, is under constant challenge1—from the scientist, the bureaucrat, the broadcaster, the innovator of every political stripe, even the voyager in space—the [editors of the American Heritage Publishing Company] undertook to prepare a new dictionary. It would faithfully record our language, the duty of any lexicographer, but it would not, like so many others in these permissive times2, rest there. On the contrary, it would add the essential dimension of guidance, that sensible guidance toward grace and precision which intelligent people seek in a dictionary3. They will find it here, in a dictionary that is in many respects a notable departure from previous British and American lexicographical practice.

To many people, the dictionary is a forbidding volume, a useful but bleak compendium, to be referred to hastily for needed information, such as spelling and pronunciation. Yet, what a dictionary ought to be is a treasury of information about every aspect of words, our most essential tools of communication. It should be an agreeable companion. By knowledgeable use of the dictionary we should learn where a word has come from, precisely what its various shades of meaning are today, and its social status4.

[…]

A major concern of the editors has been the language used in the word definitions themselves. Our aim has been to phrase definitions in concise, lucid prose. Here, too, we have undertaken to eliminate “dictionary shorthand”—the frustrating signs, symbols, and abbreviations that are commonplace in other dictionaries5. Except for a few obvious abbreviations (n. for noun, v. for verb, and the like), we have followed a policy of spelling out all definitions. Where necessary to clarify a meaningful or idiomatic usage, the editors have included an example, either quoted from literature or staff written. We have also eliminated the meaningless lists of undefined compound forms which serve, in many American dictionaries, merely the purpose of inflating the so-called “entry count.” 6

[…]

… A primary aim of our staff has been to make this dictionary as readable as we possibly could. We editors know that dictionaries can be fascinating7. Working closely with them day by day, we see the vast amounts of interesting information that many users are not aware of, usually because it is hard to work one’s way through the thorny underbrush of conventional sign language to find the treasure that lies buried in the entries. It is our earnest hope that, by presenting our dictionary in inviting and readily readable fashion, without any lessening of authority8, we will encourage the reader to explore and enjoy the riches of our remarkable tongue.

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Webster's_ThirdSome Thoughts:

1) I was struck by this notion that “the language …  is under constant challenge.” For editors of a dictionary, challenge is interesting word choice. Save for the use of euphemistic language, which obfuscates, language isn’t being “challenged” by words from scientific and other fields, it’s expanding.

2) The use of the phrase “these permissive times” is a bit of an elbow in the ribs referral to the Webster’s Third International Dictionary  (1961), which was considered by some in the dictionary world to be too (you guessed it) “permissive” in that it didn’t instruct readers in the use of “proper English.” Chief among Webster’s 3rd’s no-nos was the inclusion of the word “ain’t” (the horror). This gets us to the ongoing debate over prescriptive and descriptive dictionaries; that is, whether dictionaries ought to prescribe how the words in English ought to be used rather than describe how the words that comprise the English language are being used. The former (prescriptivists) are seen by their opponents as stodgy, anal-retentive types who fear the debasement of the language and (by extension) the decay of the social fabric, while the latter (descriptivists) are seen by their opponents as lacking in standards and guilty of shirking their duties as guardians of our remarkable tongue. (For more on this, see the link above and Kory Stamper’s Word by Word).

3) Following up on the preceding note, the gist here is that the dictionary ought to provide “sensible guidance toward grace and precision,” (read definitions that are accurate and socially acceptable), which is what intelligent people (read: discerning people wary of such permissiveness) want.

4) Do words have “social status”? Yes. This is why most dictionaries let you know if a certain use of a word is considered “archaic,” “obsolete,” “informal,” and the like. This is also a reference to the hub-bub over Webster’s third, which critics chastised for “eliminating the labels “colloquial”, “correct”, “incorrect”, “proper,” “improper,” “erroneous,” “humorous,” “jocular,” “poetic,” and “contemptuous,” etc.

5) Is “dictionary shorthand”—the signs, symbols, and abbreviations that are commonplace in other dictionaries—really “frustrating”? I suppose. Of course, most dictionaries that use such abbreviations include a key or guide to these abbreviations in the front. It seems to me that if you took a second to look up a word in a book, you can take another to look up the meaning of an abbreviation. I mean, it’s right there….

6) Do dictionary publishers really try to “inflate” their “entry counts.” In a word, yes. Or at least they have. For proof of this, check out old-timey dictionary advertisements that boast about the number of entries a dictionary contains. Stamper’s Word by Word has more on this too.

7) “We editors know that dictionaries can be fascinating.” This is word nerd-ism pure and simple, and I love it.

8) This sentence, “presenting our dictionary in inviting and readily readable fashion, without any lessening of authority,” demonstrates the dictionary maker’s dilemma. In addition to making a sideways reference to the whole permissiveness thing (see above), dictionary publishers worked hard to balance the commercial considerations of making a text that was both “authoritative” and “inviting.” This is less of a problem nowadays with digital (or online) dictionaries, but for publishers back in the day, it was real concern. Hence the use of images/illustrations and other graphic design techniques to make such large books more inviting. [Note: I didn’t include it here, but other parts of this introduction mentions the editors’ “fresh approach” that incorporates “the most recent advances in typographic design and printing.” – Ed.]

Reference News Roundup

This Week’s Reference News Roundup

Literally2Greetings once again Butter Lamb readers! It’s the weekend, which means it’s time for another Reference News Roundup. Once again, I’ve combed through the news and picked out another batch of dictionary-, word- and reference-related news for you to read and ponder.

Enjoy these articles and have a great weekend.

PS) Thanks for the likes and follows this week!

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Story of the Week:

This Bar Says It Will Kick You Out If You Use the Word ‘Literally’
HuffingtonPost.com

And the rest ….

Davos Jargon: A Crime against the English Language?
BBC.com

The Oxford English Dictionary Forgot to Include This Word for 50 Years
RD.com

If Kids Don’t Know What ‘Acorn’ and ‘Nectar’ Mean, Don’t Blame the Dictionary
Washington Post.com

Here Are the Top 5 Most Requested Additions For “Words With Friends”
BuzzFeed.com

A Word, Please: A Common Phrase May Not ‘Beg the Question’
LA Times

Word of the Week: Deadlock
The Guardian.com

Panera Bread Demands FDA Define the Word ‘Egg’
OrganicAuthority.com

Dangerous Words
Digital.VPR.net

Google Adds ‘Similar Sounding Words’ to Dictionary Search Cards
SearchEngineJournal.com

Fitzwilliam Author Delves into New England Urban Dictionary
SentinelSource.com

Don’t Sweat It, Coolness Is a Social Construct
VTCynic.com

Get Yer Hand Off It, Mate, Australian Slang Is Not Dying
TheConversation.com

Know Your Words

The Dictionary: An Agreeable Companion

Dictionary Digger
A reference enthusiast of yore celebrates Dictionary Day way back when. (image in public domain.)

In honor of Dictionary Day, I looked at how the word dictionary was defined in in eight references published over a span of 79 years. Much to my surprise, the definition of the term  has remained remarkably steady over the years, although they do seem to grow larger as time progresses.

 

Webster’s School and Office Dictionary (1914)

Dictionary. A book containing the words of a language arranged alphabetically, with their meanings; a work explaining the terms of any subject under heads alphabetically arranged.

National Dictionary (1940)

Dictionary. A book containing all, or the principal, words in a language, with phonetics indicative of the sound of each, followed by definitions and other explanatory matter. See lexicon. [Late Latin]

Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language (1966)

Dictionary. [Middle Latin dictionaries < Latin dictio] 1. A book of alphabetically listed words in a language, with definitions, etymologies, pronunciation, and other information; lexicon: a dictionary is a record of generally accepted meanings, acquired up to the time o its publication. 2. A book of alphabetically listed words in a language with their equivalents in another language: as a Spanish-English dictionary. 3. Any alphabetically arranged list of words or articles relating to a special subject: as, a medical dictionary.

Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1966)

Dictionary. 1. A book containing a selection of the words of a language, usually arranged alphabetically, giving information about their meanings, pronunciations, etymologies, inflected forms, etc., expressed in either the same or another language; lexicon; glossary: a dictionary of English; a french-English dictionary. 2. a book giving information on particular subjects or on a particular class of words, names, or facts usually arranged alphabetically: a biographical dictionary; a dictionary of mathematics [< ML dictionarium, lit., a wordbook < LL, dictio – word (see diction) + arium -ary]

American Heritage Dictionary (1969)

Dictionary. 1. A reference book containing an explanatory alphabetical list of words, as: a. a book listing a comprehensive or restricted selection of the words of a language, identifying usually the phonetic, grammatical, and semantic value of each word, often with etymology , citations, and usage guidance, and other information. b. Such a book listing the words of a particular category within a language. 2. A book listing the words of a language with transitions into another language. 3. A book listing words or other linguistic items, with specialized information about them: a medical dictionary [Medieval Latin dictionaries, from latin dicta, Diction]

Webster’s Dictionary (1971)

Dictionary [Latin: dicere, to say] A book containing, alphabetically arranged, the words of a language, their meanings, and etymology; a lexicon

World Book Dictionary (1989)

Dictionary. 1. A book that explains the words of a language, or some special kinds of words. it is usually arranged alphabetically. One can use a dictionary to find out the meaning, pronunciation, or spelling of a word. A medical dictionary explains words used in medicine. A German-English dictionary translates German words into English. A dictionary of biography has accounts of people’s lives arranged in alphabetical order of their names. From the time of [Samuel] Johnson on, the dictionary has been a conservative and standardizing agency from the spelling of the language as well as for its other aspects. Syn: lexicon. 2. a book of information or reference n any subject or branch of knowledge, the items of which are arranged in some stated order, often alphabetical: a dictionary of folklore, a Dictionary of the Bible. 3. Figurative. any repository of knowledge or information: Life is our dictionary (Emerson). Abbr: dict. [Medieval Latin dictionaries < Latin dictio]

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1993)

Dictionary [Middle Latin dictionaries, Late Latin dictiondicta word + latin -arium – ary] 1: a reference book containing words usu. alphabetically arranged along with information about their forms, pronunciations, functions, etymologies, meanings, and syntactical and idiomatic uses < a general ~ of the English language> <a monolingual ~>–compare vocabulary entry 2a: a reference book listing terms of names important to a particular subject or activity along with discussion of their meanings and applications <a law~> <a~of sports>; broadly: an encyclopedic listing <a~of dates> c: a reference book listing terms as commonly spelled together with their equivalents in some specialized system (as of orthography or symbols) <a~of shorthand> <a pronouncing ~> 3a: a general comprehensive list, collection, or repository <a ~ of biography> <a usage ~> b. vocabulary in use (as in a special field): terminology <the ~ of literary criticism> c: a vocabulary of accepted terms <in the ~ of the French Academy> d: a vocabulary of the written words used by one author <systematic dictionaries of individual authors> e: lexicon

On one hand, the similarity among the definitions seems strange, as it’s hard to believe that there haven’t been new ideas about the dictionary in nearly 80 years. On the other, the constancy of the definitions mirrors the history of dictionary making itself. As E.L. McAdam and George Milne write in their introduction to Johnson’s Dictionary: A Modern Selection, “All lexicographers use earlier dictionaries, if only to avoid the danger of omitting some words by inadvertence.” Could that be the reason for the similarity?

I don’t know the answer to that question. What I do know, however, is that dictionaries are so much more than just their definitions. The are friends … or at least “agreeable companions.”

To many people a dictionary is a forbidding volume, a useful but bleak compendium to be referred to hastily for needed information, such as spelling and pronunciation. Yet what a dictionary ought to be is a treasury of information about every aspect of words, our most essential tools of communication. It should be an agreeable companion. By knowledgeable use of the dictionary we should learn where a word has come from, precisely what its various shades of meaning are today, and its social status. — American Heritage Dictionary 

I concur! And with that, I wish you a Happy Dictionary Day!

To see more examples of all the awesome information available in dictionaries of all types, poke around this site! Don’t know where to start? Look at the list of previous posts or the tag cloud on the right side of the page.

 

Reference News Roundup

Reference News Roundup (Vol. 6)

newspaper-peepsHello Papercutters!

I haven’t done a Reference News Roundup in a while, so I decided to right that wrong with the following batch of reference- and word-related news items from the past week (give or take a few days).

Happy reading and Enjoy!

I. NEWS ITEM(S) of the WEEK

Kory Stamper, associate editor at Merriam-Webster and author of the new book Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries , is EVERYWHERE these days. (Good for her and good for dictionaries.) In fact, she’s so omnipresent that, instead of just offering you one News Item of the Week, I’m giving you four — all of which center around her in some way.

How do new words get in the dictionary?
Boingboing.net

Kory Stamper, author of the new book Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries describes three criteria Merriam-Webster uses for inclusion of words like truther, binge-watch, photobomb and the 1,000 other words that make the cut in a typical year.

Suffixery
The Chronicle of Higher Education (blog)

“So in speech, I don’t police people’s speech. I think that’s jerkery (ph) of the highest order when people do that,” [says associate editor of Merriam-Webster, Kory Stamper].

I love the “ph.” It means that the transcriber was not familiar with jerkery, found nothing when looking it up in Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries (including UrbanDictionary.com!), and thus offered a phonetic spelling. But Stamper didn’t make up jerkery.

Sorry, English teachers: ‘Irregardless’ is a word, dictionary writer says
Des Moines Register.com

“Everyone literally hates this word,” said Stamper, who visits Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City on [recently] to promote her new book, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. “But it’s been around for 200 years. It has a clear definition and regular usage. So, mad props to you, ‘irregardless.'”

Collingswood dictionary editor explains inclusion of N-word, profanity
Philly Voice.com

Charged with editing the very text used to determine which words are words and which words are not, Kory Stamper knows the power of language — for good or bad.

II. WORDS & PHRASES

What Are Sheeple? Apple Users Are In New Merriam-Webster Dictionary Definition
International Business Times

Apple fanboys have always had a reputation for undying loyalty to the brand, but Merriam-Webster is taking that characterization to a new level by using them as an example for new dictionary entry “sheeple.”

Words of the Week: “Knock for a Loop”
Bozeman Daily Chronicle.com

We American English speakers have thousands of colorful expressions at our disposal. A listener recently brought an exemplary one to my attention: knock for a loop, meaning to surprise or stun. As in: getting fired without notice knocked me for a loop. We sometimes get thrown for a loop, too, which means the same thing.

‘Wicked’ Interesting: Merriam-Webster Explores Rise Of New England’s Favorite Word
Boston.CBSlocal.com

New England and “wicked” go together like peanut butter and Fluff. But what’s the story behind the word that has flourished in Massachusetts and the northeast corner of the United States? The folks at Merriam-Webster Dictionary tried to shed some light on its origins, tweeting Thursday “This is how ‘wicked’ became an adverb.”

Imposter Syndrome enters the Oxford English Dictionary
Cambridge Network.co.uk

Colloquial usage of the term impostor syndrome has grown recently, so much so that the term is now one of the new entries into the Oxford English Dictionary.  In fact, the impostor phenomenon was first referred to in academic circles back in 1978, but it has recently developed another life as the impostor syndrome and is being used (incorrectly) to refer to any lack of confidence or self-doubt.

III. DICTIONARIES

Meet the people who are making the dictionary relevant again
Metro.US

To many, a dictionary has likely gone the way of beepers, payphones and writing by hand, but for the folks at Merriam-Webster, they’re just doing what they’ve been doing for the past 186 years.

Tech Jargon Confusing You? Use this Online Dictionary
Guidingtech.com

Are you enthralled by the numerous developments that tech has to offer but often get bogged down due to the complex tech concepts and terminology? Here is a dictionary to explain it to you like you were a child.

Chinese to English, Urdu dictionary launched
Pakobserver.net

Deputy Consul General of China Wang Daxue and Prof. Dr. Nizamudin, Chairman Punjab Higher Education Commission Friday launched the first-ever “Chinese to English and Urdu Dictionary” along with the second edition of Chinese Learning book.

IV. ENCYCLOPEDIAS

Turkey bans Wikipedia, labeling it a ‘national security threat’
Star Democrat.com

If you try to open Wikipedia in Turkey right now, you’ll turn up a swirling loading icon, then a message that the server timed out. Turkey has blocked Wikipedia. If you’re inside the country, you can only access the online encyclopedia through a virtual private network connection to a system outside the country.

Introducing an Online Encyclopedia of Inuit Arctic Observations
News Deeply.com

Siku, an online tool that recently won a $750,000 grant from Google, aims to pull together native knowledge about dangerously thin sea ice and other conditions in the Arctic’s fast-changing landscape.

V. OTHER WORDY BUSINESS

Dumbing down Shakespeare: Are Americans too intellectually lazy to appreciate his genius?
Washington Post.com

The fact that many theater companies seem to believe they can fulfill their classical mandates with only the most widely known plays, or worse, sacrifice more challenging plays to the popular-entertainment demands of the box office, makes [the author] wonder whether these are signs of a deeper problem.

10 Words That Will Make You Sound Smarter at Work
Time.com

If you’re looking to stretch your workplace vocabulary without sounding like a pretentious asshole, here are some suggestions.

[And if you don’t care what those assholes at the office think about you, just keep talking as normal….]

That’s it for this installment. If you want to see previous issues of the Reference News Roundup, click the following links:

RNR (vol.5)
RNR (vol.4)
RNR (vol.3)
RNR (vol.2)
RNR (vol.1)

Reference News Roundup

Reference News Roundup (Vol.4)

newspaper-peepsHello Papercutters! It’s time once again for a Reference News Roundup (RNR) courtesy of your friends at the Anachronist Reference Library.

Before we get started, let me say:

1. Thanks for reading and, if you dig this kind of thing, follow the blog and share this with your friends.
2. You can also follow me on Twitter @Joe3atARL.
3. Finally, should you feel inclined, drop me a line if you want to comment on or chat about any of the issues raised here.

Alright, let’s get right to it, shall we? As usual, I’ll start with this episode’s …

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NEWS ITEM OF THE WEEK:

The Secret Life of Dictionaries is a bittersweet look at the disappearing reference book
Kory Stamper’s narrative of life as an editor at Merriam-Webster – “America’s oldest dictionary company” – is consistently wry and amusing, but a sadness persists in the telling. It is the sadness of good things doomed to disappear. The good thing in this case is the hefty, one-volume print dictionary with nearly every phrase and sentence the product of pure verbal craftsmanship.

Editor’s Note: Enough with the learned helplessness of the Digital Age. Things like dictionaries will only disappear if we let them. If you like having a dictionary around, go out and buy one.

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ON DICTIONARIES AND LANGUAGE

Here’s Why “On Fleek” Isn’t in the Dictionary, Yet (Interview)
In her new book, Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, Kory Stamper spins various adventures in lexicography with exuberance and wit to spare. Unlike what you might think about the dictionary, Stamper is out to prove language and word usage don’t have to be super-rigid. You can use “literally” in all kinds of ways, and there are many plural of octopus.

Connections: New words added to the dictionary, and how language evolves
Merriam-Webster and the Oxford Dictionaries have added more than 1,000 new words to their databases. Some of the words, like “microagression” and “safe space” have been used for years, but have gained enough popularity to be added now. Other words and phrases, like “humblebrag” and “face-palm” are raising questions because they seem trendy and like slang.

English language ‘organised’ itself for centuries: study
The English language has effectively organised itself for centuries, even without any kind of oversight or control from an official body, according to a new study.

What’s a bunnyhug? The new edition of the Dictionary of Canadianisms
Do you know what a “bunnyhug” is? How about the Big-O? They’re just a couple of Canadianisms – words with their own specific meaning in Canada, and both found in the soon to be released second edition of the Dictionary of Canadianisms.

Washington Post and Jigsaw launch a collaborative pop-up dictionary of security jargon
Information security’s biggest obstacle isn’t the mere insecurity of so many of our tools and services: it’s the widespread lack of general knowledge about fundamental security concepts, which allows scammers to trick people into turning off or ignoring security red flags. Explaining these concepts isn’t easy, but it can be done. To that end, Jigsaw — Google’s online safety division — and the Washington Post are creating a collaborative, visual pop-up dictionary that explains difficult security concepts with analogies, metaphors and images.

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ON ENCYCLOPEDIAS

Wikipedia Bans Daily Mail
An investigation by this paper has revealed how Wikipedia banned the Daily Mail as a source after just 53 out of its 30 million editors voted to do so.

China’s ‘biggest online encyclopedia’ apologizes for selling fake entries on its open platform
Hudong Baike has apologized for allowing fake content to be posted on its online encyclopedia platform. The apology followed an exposé by state broadcaster CCTV.

Editor’s Note: Are you sensing a trend with online references? I am. User beware.

A Comprehensive Encyclopedia On African Art Is In The Works
Writer and art historian, Nana Oforiatta-Ayim is taking on the enormous task of cataloguing art history from the continent.

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ON WORDS

What Does ‘Complicit’ Mean? SNL Skit Makes Word Most Popular Search On Merriam-Webster, Dictionary Says
Ivanka Trump’s eponymous perfume is a top-seller on Amazon.com, but “Saturday Night Live” gave her a new eau de parfum—and its name was Merriam-Webster’s most-searched word Sunday.

After two years —and three dictionaries — Florida court defines ‘sexual intercourse’
It took two years and three dictionaries, but the Florida Supreme Court finally determined Thursday that “sexual intercourse” isn’t just between a man and a woman.

13 words that no one uses anymore
Language expert Robbie Love, from Lancaster University, compiled the most popular words from the 1990s which have since declined the most drastically and the top words — not around in the in the 1990s — which are hugely popular today.

Capturing “Take” for the Dictionary
A Merriam-Webster editor’s knock-down, drag-out battle to define a deceptively small, innocent word.

‘Done and Done’
I texted my wife the other day asking whether she had walked the dog. She answered, “Done and done.” I was like, “Wait — what and what??”

Ed. Note: I say this all the time. What’s the big deal?

And the winner of best swear word is…
An analysis of more than 500,000 online product reviews found that [Britons use] this curse word more frequently than any other when giving negative feedback.

In a Word . . . Bell
Now there’s an intriguing word: campanology.

Editor’s Note: this article gives St. Patrick a passing mention. If you haven’t seen it, the ARL put up a post about this snake-driver on his feast day. Check it out.

Where the word ‘shroff’ came from, and its many meanings
Money changer, silver expert, customs officer, court money collector, cashier’s office – a word originally borrowed by English from India, which coined it from Arabic, has meant different things down the years.

The Secret Code Word for When the Queen Dies Has Been Revealed
When the Queen dies a exhaustive plan of how the nation will be told and what happens in following days and hours will swing into action. It includes a special code word for the Queen and a highly detailed plan with everything from her undertakers name to the number of pall bearers and the length of gunfire salute in her honor.

Is ‘hell’ a curse word?
Is ‘hell’ a curse word? Teens face the wrath of angry parents as they take part in ‘Hell Challenge’, asking their moms and dads if the word is profane, provoking some furious responses.

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Well, that’s it for this Reference News Roundup. To see past installments, visit the following:

RNR – Volume 1          RNR – Volume 2          RNR – Volume 3

 

 

The Art of the Dictionary

Going Round and Round with Saturn

[Note: My original intent for this post was simply to show some of the cool art that adorns the various dictionaries and other books in the ARL’s collection under the heading of “The Art of the Dictionary.” Unfortunately, I got carried away and ended up writing a full-blown post on a hopelessly intriguing figure who’s shrouded in mystery: Saturn.]

saturn-1
Credit: Dictionary of Symbols

Not long ago, when I was suffering through what I can only call a dark time, I turned to more than a few of the books in my library to find some answers as to what might be happening and why. (I tried a shrink too, but the books were more useful.) One of them that left a “mark” was Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul, which has a chapter with the rather curious title, “Gifts of Depression.” Within that chapter is a section bearing the sub-heading, “Saturn’s Child,” which contains sentiments like this:

… There was a time, five or six hundred years ago, when melancholy was identified with the Roman god Saturn. To be depressed was to be “in Saturn,” and a person chronically disposed to melancholy was known as a “child of Saturn.” […] These melancholic thoughts are are deeply rooted in Saturn’s preference for days gone by, for memory and the sense that time is passing. These thoughts and feelings, sad as they are, favor the soul’s desire to be both in time and in eternity, and so in a strange way, can be pleasing.

In traditional texts, Saturn is characterized as cold and distant … Saturn was also traditionally identified with the metal lead, giving the soul weight and density, allowing the light, airy elements to coalesce…. As we age, our ideas, formerly light and rambling, and unrelated to each other, become more densely gathered into values and philosophy, giving our lives substance and firmness.

For whatever reason, these words of Moore’s have stuck with me and I’ve become a little obsessed with this notion of a sort of “god of melancholy.” So, naturally, I dug into the reference section of my library to learn more about this god of yore and to see if what Moore had to say about him was accurate.

What I found, not surprisingly perhaps, were differing myths surrounding Saturn and a rich symbolic history that seems to contradict the myths without completely destroying the somewhat tenuous, yet highly visible thread that weaves its way through and unites them all.

saturn-2
Credit: Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature

Here are a few excerpts demonstrating both those contradictions and unifying themes.

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Saturn symbolizes time, with its ravenous appetite for life, devours all its creations, whether they are beings, things, ideas or sentiments. He is also symbolic of the insufficiency, in the mystic sense, of any order of existence within the plane of the temporal, or the necessity for the “reign of Cronos” to be succeeded by another cosmic mode of existence in which time has no place. Time brings restlessness–the sense of duration lasting from the moment of stimulus up to the instant of satisfaction. Hence Saturn is symbolic of activity, of slow, implacable dynamism, of realization and communication; and this is why he is said to have devoured his children and why he is related to the Ouroboros (or the serpent which bites its own tail). Other attributes are the oar (standing for navigation nad progress in things temporal), the hourglass and the scythe. In the scythe we can detect a double meaning: first, its function of cutting parallel to and corroborating the symbolism of devouring; and, secondly, its curved shape, which invariably corresponds to the feminine principle. This is why … Saturn takes on the same characteristic ambiguity of gender and sex, and is related to the earth, the sarcophagus and putrefaction, as well as the color black…. Saturn is in every case, a symbol of the law of limitation which gives shape to life, or the localized expression in time and space of the universal life.

A Dictionary of Symbols

A very old Italian god identified with Cronus. He was said to have come from Greece to Italy in very early times, when Jupiter dethroned him and hurled him from Olympus. He established himself on the Capitol, on the site of Rome, and founded a village there, which bore the name of Saturnia. The reign of Saturn was extremely prosperous. This was the Golden Age. Saturn taught people how to cultivate the ground…. He was depicted armed with a scythe and his name was was associated with the invention of viticulture. He was, however, sometimes considered as a god of the underworld.

Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology

[Speaking of his reign in Italy …] Men lived like the gods, without care, in uninterrupted happiness, health, and strength; they did not grow old; and to them death was a slumber which relieved them of their present nature and transformed them into daemons. The earth yielded every kind of fruit and gave up all its treasures without cultivation or labor. Under the reign of Saturn, men lived a life of paradise.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature