Archive for the ‘Lexicography’ Category

Amber 2

September 21, 2015

Following up on my posting on succinic acid (which led to some discussion of the substance amber), two amber items: a musical interlude, and material about senses of the noun amber.


Stanford news: Jane Shaw and Sarah Ogilvie

January 22, 2015

From the January/February issue of Stanford magazine, “Breaking Holy Ground: New dean and professor Jane Shaw continues her career of firsts in a field steeped in history and tradition” by Sam Scott:

A historian of modern Christianity, Shaw, 51, arrives at Stanford as both dean and religious studies professor. Previously, she spent 16 years at Oxford, followed by four years as dean of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. Her partner, lexicographer and linguist Sarah Ogilvie, also will teach at Stanford.


(Photo by Glenn Matsumura.)


Lexicographer, unchained

January 15, 2015

From lexicographer Kory Stamper on her blog (“harm∙less drudg∙ery: life from inside the dictionary”) of December 19th: “Answers I Wish I Could Send: Etymology Edition”, with comments from readers (edited some for clarity) and sharp-tongued answers she wishes she could give. Making points on my blog, Language Log, Ben Zimmer’s blogs, etc. Hilarious stuff. Some highlights below.


Quirky Berkeley lexicography

December 7, 2014

In the NYT yesterday, a piece “A Step-by-Step Guide to Berkeley’s Many Quirks” by Malia Wollan, beginning:

Tom Dalzell looks too strait-laced to be the arbiter of the eccentric.

Nonetheless, almost two years ago, Mr. Dalzell, 63, set out in his khakis and comfortable shoes to walk every street, alleyway and path and document this city’s material oddities on a website he calls Quirky Berkeley. “There is a tremendous diversity of thought here,” Mr. Dalzell said. “And one of the ways we express our lack of conformity is with the quirky things we put on our houses and in our yards.”

Ah, the name Tom Dalzell, familiar to me from a very different context.

Mr. Dalzell moved to Berkeley 30 years ago, after a stint working for Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. He manages a labor union of gas and electric utility workers by day and moonlights as an author of slang dictionaries and a collector of idiosyncrasies.

In fact, Dalzell parlayed an enthusiasm for words into a lexicographic career.


Press release modesty

December 5, 2014

From Sim Aberson, a link to an NPR story of December 3rd: “The Ant’s Pants? Oxford Dictionaries Adds 1,000 New Terms” by Bill Chappell, The overview:

With terms like mahoosive and al desko, the editors of say they’ve made the largest quarterly update in their history, adding definitions for 1,000 words.

We’ll clarify that while the digital service is affiliated with Oxford University, it’s officially separate from the venerable dictionary.

The new additions range from pop culture (“xlnt” and “permadeath”) to business-speak (“algorithmic trading”).

And they include three definitions with taboo avoidance in them:

ish, n.: (US informal) used as a euphemism for ‘sh–t’

PMSL, abbrev.: (vulgar slang, chiefly Brit.) p–ing myself laughing (used to express great amusement)

WTAF, abbrev.: (vulgar slang) what the actual f–

Not NPR’s doing: the list on their site is taken verbatim from the press release.

But on the actual site (assembled by lexicographers), the definitions use the taboo vocabulary: shit, pissing, fuck. The modesty is for press releases. Just in case children or the easily offended are reading the releases, I suppose.


November 24, 2014

Two usage queries came to me recently: one on uses of a noun doxy; one on two informal idioms (the whole shooting match and wham, bam, thank you ma’am (with some variant versions)): Max Vasilatos reported coming across two Californian young men, one of whom didn’t understand the first, the other of whom didn’t understand the second.


Dictionary Day

October 16, 2014

The folks at Mental Floss tell me that today, October 16th, Noah Webster’s birthday, is Dictionary Day, described on the Days of the Year site as follows:

A day for lexicographers everywhere, Dictionary Day was founded to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Noah Webster – the father of the modern dictionary. Why not take the opportunity to learn some new words?

Several things to annoy the careful reader here, starting with the narrow American focus and going on to the ideas that we’d all be improved by learning some new words and that the primary job of lexicographers is giving us a great big list of words.



September 27, 2013

From a friend yesterday:

Recently the word “selfie” has been showing up, referring to images taken of oneself, usually with a cell phone.

I was wondering how long it takes for a word such as this to become accepted and recognized by you authorities on words.

Two matters here: the word selfie; and acceptance and recognition by authorities on words.


Annals of lexicography

September 11, 2013

From Cabinet magazine, issue 49 (Spring 2013), in “Leftovers / Cephalophoric Reason” by Eigil zu Tage-Ravn, about French folklorist Émile Nourry’s

exhaustive “Les saints céphalophores,” seventy-three closely researched pages documenting, in old French and Latin sources, more than 120 instances of saints engaging in “cephalophory” – i.e., carrying their own severed heads.

Cephalaphory. Transparent, I guess, if you know enough Greek (though even then you’d only get ‘head-carrying, head-bearing’, not specifically ‘carrying one’s own severed head’). Not a word most of us would have a use for, but arresting and entertaining.

Crisis talk

July 29, 2013

In the NYT on the 26th, the story “A Continent Mired in Crisis Coins a Language of Economic Pain” by Raphael Minder, which begins:

MADRID — The Portuguese have a new word, “grandolar,” which grew out of the euro crisis and means “to subject a government minister to a singing protest using a revolutionary hymn.” But now, after three years of austerity, even Portuguese children “grandolate” their parents if they do not want to take a bath.

Well, not a whole language, but a vocabulary in the economic domain.



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