Archive for the ‘Lexicography’ Category

Alarming annals of cinematic lexicography

August 4, 2016

Lexicographers’ eyes are rolling at the prospect of a movie about the Oxford English Dictionary with Mel Gibson in the role of the dictionary’s editor and Sean Penn as an early contributor to the project. The story from Rolling Stone yesterday, “Mel Gibson, Sean Penn Slated to Star in ‘The Professor and the Madman’: Oxford English Dictionary creation story heads to the big screen”:

Mel Gibson and Sean Penn may act together for the first time in a forthcoming adaptation of The Professor and the Madman, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The book, written by Simon Winchester, tells the origin story of the Oxford English Dictionary. Gibson is a longtime fan of Winchester’s tale: he acquired the rights to the bestseller in 1998, the same year it was first published in the U.K.

Gibson is slated to portray Professor James Murray, who oversaw the creation of the O.E.D. starting in 1857. The Hollywood Reporter suggests that Penn is “in negotiations” to appear opposite Gibson in the role of Dr. W. C. Minor, an important early contributor to the dictionary. Minor has a colorful backstory: a former surgeon in the U.S. army, he was locked up in an insane asylum during the period when he furnished Murray with more than 10,000 dictionary entries.

The screenplay for The Professor and the Madman was written by Farhad Safinia, who will also direct the film. Safinia has worked with Gibson before: the two co-wrote Apocalypto, which hit screens in 2006.

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Fireworks, hot dogs, and, yes, gun sales

July 4, 2016

Three phallic things for (U.S.) Independence Day, the Fourth of July, today: fireworks, one of the classic audio-visual symbols of sexual climax; hot dogs (so common that there’s a whole Page on this blog on wurstlich phallicity); and guns, those icons of American independence and power. In order, from Jack Handey humor in the most recent New Yorker (July 4th, cover by Barry Blitt showing John Cleese doing a Brexit Silly Walk off the edge of a cliff); an assessment of hot dog brands by bon appétit magazine writers; and a Fourth of July gun sale from Cabela’s, featuring a  semiautomatic rifle similar to the one used in the Orlando Pulse massacre.

Unlike a panda, which famously eats, shoots, and leaves, a Real American eats, shoots, and gets off.

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Morning spunk: same word, different word

May 27, 2016

In a sense, a re-play of an earlier posting, “spunk” of 3/16/11, which was about spunk ‘spirit, mettle, courage, pluck’ vs. spunk ‘semen, seminal fluid’. Now spunk appeared as a morning name for me a few days ago, along with the ‘pluck’ context of the interview between Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore) and Lou Grant (played by Ed Asner) in the first episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show: Grant: “You’ve got spunk … I hate spunk.”

That led me to NOAD2, where I found a single noun entry with three subentries:

1 informal courage and determination.
2 tinder; touchwood.
3 Brit. vulgar slang semen.

(Note: seminal spunk might be more common in BrE than AmE, but it is scarcely unknown in AmE, as a search will readily confirm.)

Speaking informally, this dictionary presents these three as a single word with three different uses (all of which ae available in my speech), while I would have thought these were three different words which just happened to be identical in spelling and pronunciation. What could possibly unite them?

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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.

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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.

(#1)

(Photo by Glenn Matsumura.)

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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.

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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.

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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 OxfordDictionaries.com 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 oxforddictionaries.com press release.

But on the oxforddictionaries.com 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.

Ask AMZ

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.

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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.

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