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Posts Tagged ‘dictionaries

“Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work”*…

 

In 1699, an anonymous lexicographer known only as “B. E., Gent.” published the first comprehensive dictionary of non-standard English. Although shorter word lists and glossaries of slang terminology had been published previously, B.E.’s New Dictionary of the Canting Crew listed over 4000 words and phrases, and is credited with being the first such publication resembling a modern dictionary. As a result, it remained the standard reference work for English slang and jargon for almost another century…

“Addle-plot,” “ebb-water,” and 28 other examples of historic jargon at “30 Excellent Terms From a 17th Century Slang Dictionary.”

* Carl Sandburg

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As we reach for the right phrase, we might send gritty birthday greetings to a man who was a master of the coinage of crime– Samuel Dashiell Hammett; he was born on this date in 1894.  Hammett worked as an agent of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency from 1915-1922, when– disillusioned by the organization’s role in strike-breaking– he left to become a writer, providing copy in an ad agency until his fiction earned enough to support him.  Hammett drew for his fiction on his experiences as a “Pinkerton Man,” and created an extraordinary series of characters– Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), The Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse)– on the way to becoming, as the New York Times called him, “the dean of the… ‘hard-boiled’ school of detective fiction.”

In his book The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler, considered by many to be Hammett’s successor, observed,

Hammett was the ace performer… He is said to have lacked heart; yet the story he himself thought the most of The Glass Key is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before. 

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Written by LW

May 27, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Some people have a way with words, and other people…oh, uh, not have way”*…

 

A few times each decade, the number of acceptable Scrabble words grows. Some sixty-five hundred new words—“lolz,” “shizzle,” and “blech” among them—will officially enter one of the two major competitive Scrabble lexicons on September 1st of this year. The grumbling that results when a word list lengthens is not so much about the inclusion of obscene or offensive words—though a cleaned-up list was controversially published in 1996, after someone protested the inclusion of “jew” as a verb. Instead, it is more about the growing divide between two Scrabble communities: North America and everywhere else…

The history of everyone’s favorite word game– and an explanation of the controversy roiling it today– at “The battle over Scrabble’s dictionaries.”

* Steve Martin

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As we reach for a triple-letter double-word combo, we might recall that, while February 23rd, 1455 is the traditionally-given date of the publication of the Gutenberg Bible, the first Western book printed from movable type, the first evidence-based date is this date in 1456: the copy in the Bibliothèque nationale de France contains a note from the binder establishing the time of its publication.

(The Jikji— the world’s oldest known extant movable metal type printed book– was published in Korea in 1377.  Bi Sheng created the first known moveable type– out of wood– in China in 1040.)

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Written by LW

August 24, 2015 at 1:01 am

A dictionary for these turbulent times…

In these times of proliferating online reference resources, what’s a poor scholar to do?  Dictionaries can be a particular problem: duelling definitions, eccentric enunciations…  all against a backdrop of a language that’s evolving, in both vocabulary and usage, even as we speak…

Enter Wordnik:

Wordnik is a new way to discover meaning…  Wordnik shows definitions from multiple sources, so you can see as many different takes on a word’s meaning as possible… We try to show as many real examples as possible for each word. These examples are ranked by how useful we think they are in helping you understand the meaning of a particular word, especially words that may not have traditional dictionary definitions… [Wordnik lists related words.]  Our word relationships include synonyms, hypernyms, hyponyms, words used in the same context, a reverse dictionary, and tags…

All this– plus lists, images illustrating entries, recorded pronunciations, and a word-of-the-day at Wordnik.

 

As we choose our words both more carefully and more confidently, we might fling a fistful of rice in celebration of the nuptials of Sadye Marks (better known as Mary Livingstone) and Benjamin Kubelsky (or Jack Benny, as audiences knew him); they were married on this date in 1927.

Mary co-starred in Benny’s fabulously-successful radio series, and became famous for her occasional flubbed lines, many ultimately as legendary as the deliberately-crafted “illogical logic” of Gracie Allen or the carefully-scripted malapropisms of Jane Ace and (as Molly in The Goldbergs) Gertrude Berg.  (Visit here for downloadable examples.)

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Written by LW

January 14, 2012 at 1:01 am

Staying current with the past…

click here to download a pdf of the article

The New York Times Sunday Magazine (or “The Magazine Section,” as it was originally known) has been in continuous publication since 1896.  David Friedman, a professional photographer and proprietor of the lovely blog Ironic Sans, has introduced a new service, Sunday Magazine, in which he promises to reach back every week exactly one hundred years to

…dole out a few of my favorite articles from each week on a new blog: SundayMagazine.org. I have a couple weeks’ worth of posts up, and the next two months’ worth already in the hopper. They range from historically interesting to downright bizarre. I hope that you’ll see it as a new source of reading material. Some of the articles are short, and some are as long as 4,000 words crammed on one broadsheet.

Read it and reap!

As we search (in vain) for the antique crossword puzzles, we might recall that it was on this date in 1755 that Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language was published in London.  [Readers will recall that Dr. J has made numerous appearances in (R)D, e.g., on his birthday, and in a nod to Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s wonderful “word a day” service.]

Johnson’s dictionary wasn’t the first English dictionary; over the previous 150 years more than twenty dictionaries had been published in England, the oldest of these being a Latin-English “wordbook” by Sir Thomas Elyot published in 1538.  But in 1746 a group of London booksellers, dissatisfied with the dictionaries available, contracted Johnson to write one– a feat he promised to complete in three years.  It took him nine.  Still, he did so single-handedly, with clerical assistance only in copying out the illustrative quotations that he had marked in books.

It was, of course, an epoch-making accomplishment.  Until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary, 173 years later, Johnson’s held sway as the preeminent English dictionary.  As Walter Jackson Bate observed, the Dictionary “easily ranks as one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship, and probably the greatest ever performed by one individual who labored under anything like the disadvantages in a comparable length of time.”

Title page (from the second edition) of the Dictionary


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