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Posts Tagged ‘Dictionary

“There’s no such thing as an unabridged dictionary”*…

 

For OED’s editors, this world is both exhilarating and, one senses, mildly overwhelming. The digital era has enabled Oxford lexicographers to run dragnets deeper and deeper through the language, but it has also threatened to capsize the operation. When you’re making a historical dictionary and are required to check each and every resource, then recheck those resources when, say, a corpus of handwritten 17th-century letters comes on stream, the problem of keeping the dictionary up to date expands to even more nightmarish proportions. Adding to that dictionary to accommodate new words – themselves visible in greater numbers than ever before, mutating ever-faster – increases the nightmare exponentially. “In the early years of digital, we were a little out of control,” Peter Gilliver told me. “It’s never-ending,” one OED lexicographer agreed. “You can feel like you’re falling into the wormhole.”

Adding to the challenge is a story that has become wearily familiar: while more people are consulting dictionary-like resources than ever, almost no one wants to shell out. Sales of hard-copy dictionaries have collapsed, far more calamitously than in other sectors. (OUP refused to give me figures, citing “commercial sensitivities”. “I don’t think you’ll get any publisher to fess up about this,” Michael Rundell told me.) While reference publishers amalgamate or go to the wall, information giants such as Google and Apple get fat by using our own search terms to sell us stuff. If you can get a definition by holding your thumb over a word on your smartphone, why bother picking up a book?…

As Andrew Dickson explains, for centuries lexicographers have attempted to capture the entire English language. Technology might soon turn this dream into reality – but will it spell the end for dictionaries?  The fascinating story of the Oxford English Dictionary‘s ongoing attempt to outrun that fate: “Inside the OED: can the world’s biggest dictionary survive the internet?

* Jack Lynch, The Lexicographer’s Dilemma: The Evolution of “Proper” English, from Shakespeare to South Park

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As we look it up, we might send carefully-defined birthday greetings to Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel Bleek; he was born on this date in 1827.  A linguist, he created  A Comparative Grammar of South African Languages.  But his great project (jointly executed with his sister-in-law, Lucy Lloyd) was “The Bleek and Lloyd Archive of ǀxam and !kun texts”– a shortened form of which eventually reached press as Specimens of Bushman Folklore (on which Laurens van der Post drew heavily for his book, The Heart of the Hunter and for his BBC series The Lost World of the Kalahari).

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Happy International Women’s Day!

Written by LW

March 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”*…

 

Consciousness permeates reality. Rather than being just a unique feature of human subjective experience, it’s the foundation of the universe, present in every particle and all physical matter.

This sounds like easily-dismissible bunkum, but as traditional attempts to explain consciousness continue to fail, the “panpsychist” view is increasingly being taken seriously by credible philosophers, neuroscientists, and physicists, including figures such as neuroscientist Christof Koch and physicist Roger Penrose…

The materialist viewpoint states that consciousness is derived entirely from physical matter. It’s unclear, though, exactly how this could work. “It’s very hard to get consciousness out of non-consciousness,” says [David Chalmers, a philosophy of mind professor at New York University]. “Physics is just structure. It can explain biology, but there’s a gap: Consciousness.” Dualism holds that consciousness is separate and distinct from physical matter—but that then raises the question of how consciousness interacts and has an effect on the physical world.

Panpsychism offers an attractive alternative solution: Consciousness is a fundamental feature of physical matter; every single particle in existence has an “unimaginably simple” form of consciousness, says [Philip Goff, a philosophy professor at Central European University in Budapest]. These particles then come together to form more complex forms of consciousness, such as humans’ subjective experiences. This isn’t meant to imply that particles have a coherent worldview or actively think, merely that there’s some inherent subjective experience of consciousness in even the tiniest particle…

More at “The idea that everything from spoons to stones are conscious is gaining academic credibility.”

(For a speculative playing out of this notion (and a basketful of other mind-twisting conceits of consciousness) at a cosmic scale, enjoy Vernor Vinge’s exquisite A Fire Upon the Deep…)

* Stephen Hawking  (Panpsychists argue that consciousness is the answer to his question.)

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As we treat inanimate objects with more respect, we might send carefully-catalogued and phrased birthday greetings to Émile Maximilien Paul Littré; he was born on this date in 1801. A philosopher (friend and supporter of Auguste Comte, and contributor, with Comte, to the development of positivism), he is better remembered for his Dictionnaire de la langue française, commonly called “The Littré,” a project that ran from 1844-1872, and was originally issued in 30 parts– the largest lexicographical work on the French language at that time.

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Written by LW

February 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry”*…

 

Jonathon Green’s unique edition of The Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose, first published in 1785

“Slang dictionaries have always been done by mad people who sit in rooms and make books out of them,” explains Jonathon Green. For 35 years he’s been doing just that: collecting slang words and compiling them into dictionaries.

The biggest of these—Green’s Dictionary of Slang, published in 2010—launched online this week. The online version is made up of 132,000 terms (the original print edition had around 110,000). Users can search for a word and its etymology for free, and subscribers can pay to access a bigger range of citations and a timeline of their evolution…

More of the backstory at “This man has spent 35 years compiling entries for a 132,000-word online slang dictionary that you can search for free.”  Browse the dictionary here.

* G.K. Chesterton

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As we carefully choose our words, we might doff our hats to Elizabethan poet, courtier, and soldier Sir Philip Sidney, who died on this date in 1586 of an infected thigh wound received in combat with the Spanish at the Battle of Zutphen, after having given his leg armor to a soldier who had forgotten his own.  As he lay dying, he gave his water-bottle to another wounded soldier, saying, “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine.”  Sidney’s Arcadia (or more fully, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia)– the inspiration for the Gloucester sub-plot in Shakespeare’s King Lear-– was published posthumously.

Sir Philip Sidney

“Your toil will become light and amusing and your progress sure, if you will only read a little Lucian every day”*…

 

Detail from the title page to the 1774 edition of Carr’s Dialogues of Lucian

Lucian of Samosata, who lived from ca. 125AD to ca. 200AD, was an Assyrian writer and satirist who today is perhaps best remembered for his Vera Historia, or A True Story — a fantastical tale which not only has the distinction of being one of the first science-fiction stories ever written, but is also a contender for one of the first novels.

A True Story is a stylish and brilliantly conceived work of the imagination, and readers may still delight in its descriptions of lunar life forms and interplanetary warfare, its islands of cheese and rivers of wine, and its modernistic use of celebrity cameos. But by the time of its writing Lucian was already several years into a period of literary adventurism that had brought him considerable fame — and infamy — as one of the sharpest, funniest, and most original comic writers of the age. With the quartet of works consisting of Dialogues of the Courtesans, Dialogues of the Dead, Dialogues of the Gods, and Dialogues of the Sea-Gods, Lucian would not only scandalise some of the most influential and celebrated figures of the empire, but in what is perhaps the best-known of these, Dialogues of the Gods, he would also furnish the permanent decline of belief in the gods themselves…

Nicholas Jeeves tells the story behind the twenty-six short comic dialogues that made up Dialogues of the Gods– in which Lucian took the popular images of the Greek gods and re-drew them as greedy, sex-obsessed, power-mad despots– and their reception in the English speaking world:  “Divine Comedy: Lucian Versus The Gods.”  (Check out Jeeves’ new edition of the Dialogues here.)

* Thomas Linacre, Humanist scholar and teacher of Thomas More and Erasmus (who shared their mentor’s advice by leading the resurgence of interest in Lucian in the 16th century)

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As we titter, we might recall that it was on this date in 1828 that Noah Webster copyrighted the first edition of his American Dictionary of the English Language.  Published in two quarto volumes, it contained 70,000 entries, as against the high of 58,000 of any previous dictionary.  Webster, who was 70 at the time, had published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, in 1806, and had begun then the campaign of language reform (motivated by both nationalistic and philological concerns) that initiated the formal shift of American English spelling (center rather than centre, honor rather than honour, program rather than programme, etc.).  His 1828 dictionary cemented those changes, and continued his efforts to include technical and scientific (not just literary) terms.

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With apologies, your correspondent will again be away for a few days, this time, to a connectivity- free precinct.  (Who knew such a thing survives?)  With luck, regular service should resume in about a week.

Written by LW

April 14, 2016 at 1:01 am

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world”*…

 

Grace

Before dinner the Reverend Newman said grace: “Heavenly Father. What kind of a heel do you think I am? How dare you talk to me like that! Don’t give me any of your back talk, smart-ass. It’s been an  of a week. I sinned and brought shame down on us. As far as I’m concerned, it’s no big deal. You don’t know dick about this—you haven’t a clue! I suppose you believe that rubbish about vampires. The allegations were false, do you understand me? Baseless allegations. I believe in ghosts. Too bad, but that’s the way it is. Why don’t you leave me alone? Go on, get lost! I’ll get mine, you get yours, we’ll all get wealthy. Amen to that!”

More stories composed entirely of example sentences for the New Oxford American Dictionary at Dictionary Stories.

* Philip Pullman

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As we channel our inner Tristan Tzara, we might recall that  it was on this date in 1937 that George Allen & Unwin published J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.  Widely critically-acclaimed in its time (nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction), it was a success with readers, and spawned a sequel… which became the trilogy The Lord of the Rings.

Cover of the first edition, featuring a drawing by Tolkien

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Written by LW

September 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Wrestling is ballet with violence”*…

 

“You call it wrestling, they term it ‘working’ … As Shakespeare once said: ‘A rose by any other name,’ etc.” So Marcus Griffin began his groundbreaking 1937 book on the ins and outs of the pro wrestling business, Fall Guys: The Barnums of Bounce. It’s a good place to start, because any discussion of the grunt-and-groaners (as Griffin would call them) inevitably involves an examination of the artifice that undergirds the endeavor, and that artifice — be it the antediluvian secret that the whole show is a put-on, or the modern-day pretense that both actors and audience interact as if it’s legitimate — is itself bolstered by an intricate, seemingly inane vocabulary of lingo, idiom, and jargon.

Every subculture has its lingo, but the subbier the culture, the more unintelligible the dialect can be. Couple that with an industry conceived on falsehood and dedicated to keeping the lie alive, and you’ve got a rabbit hole that even the most stalwart of linguists would think twice before exploring. We take a stab at it here. The most obvious of terms, those used in common parlance outside the wrestling world — pin, feud, dud, etc. — are mostly omitted, despite their prevalence inside the biz. Some terms are listed within other definitions for readability’s sake. As with anything of this sort, this list is far from complete — and as with anything so idiomatic, the definitions are frequently debatable. Though some of the terms are obscure, their purpose is larger. The terms obscure the industry’s realities, sure; they function as a secret handshake among those with insider knowledge, obviously; but moreover, they try to describe a unique, oddball enterprise in terms of its own bizarre artistry…

From…

angle (n.) — A story line or plot in the wrestling product, as in, “They’re working a classic underdog angle.” It can be employed in either small-bore usage — i.e., the angle in a match — or in large-scale terms to describe a lengthy story. The term is borrowed from the archaic criminal/carnie phrase “work an angle,” which means figuring out a scam or finding an underhanded way to make a profit.

and…

Andre shot (n.) — A trick by which a camera is positioned beneath a wrestler, looking up, so as to make the wrestler look bigger. Famously used to make the 7-foot-4 Andre the Giant look even bigger than he was.

to…

workrate (n.) — A term for in-ring wrestling quality, used primarily by wrestling journalists to rate the physical and psychological performance of a match. The field of wrestling critique is often associated with journalist Dave Meltzer, who rates matches on a star scale; great matches throughout history are often referred to as “five-star matches” in reference to Meltzer’s rubric.

and…

zabada (n.) — A catch-all term for an arbitrary tool used to fill in a hole in anangle, usually used when the tool is still undefined, as in, “He’ll come out, cut a promo, run-in, zabada, then the finish.”

…it’s all in “Grantland Dictionary: Pro Wrestling Edition,” along with illustrations like the one above (for “chain wrestling”). Check out Grantland‘s other delightful dictionaries here.

* Jesse Ventura

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As we feel the frenzy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1906, in a game against Carroll College, that St. Louis University’s Bradbury “Brad” Robinson hit Jack Schneider with a 20-yard touchdown toss– the first legal forward pass in football.

“E. B. Cochems [the coach at St. Louis University in 1906] is to forward passing what the Wright brothers are to aviation and Thomas Edison is to the electric light.”

– College Football Hall of Fame coach David M. Nelson

1906 St. Louis Post-Dispatch drawing of Brad Robinson’s epic throw

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Written by LW

September 5, 2014 at 1:01 am

Picture this…

 

Just one of the entries at WTF Visualizations: “visualizations that make no sense.”

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As we recall that not all pictures signify, we might send well-worded birthday greetings to Samuel Johnson; he was born on this date in 1709.  A poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor, and lexicographer, Johnson’s best-known work was surely  A Dictionary of the English Language, which he published in 1755, after nine years work– and which served as the standard for 150 years (until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary).  But Dr. Johnson, as he was known, is probably best remembered as the subject of what Walter Jackson Bate noted is “the most famous single work of biographical art in the whole of literature” : James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson.  A famous aphorist, Johnson was the very opposite of a man he described to Boswell in 1784: “He is not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others.”

Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Dr. Johnson

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Written by LW

September 18, 2013 at 1:01 am

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