Blog Excerpts

If "Sam & Cat" Can't Get a Word Into the Dictionary, Who Can?

It's a popularly held idea that dictionary writers have the power to add words to the lexicon. In fact, that's not true. Language changes organically, and it's the job of the lexicographer to take notes. 

On the linguistics blog Language Log, our own Ben Zimmer revisits how this works, taking a look at a recent episode of the Nickelodeon teen comedy "Sam & Cat," in which the titular characters take on word-creation head on. (Find the full episode here.)

 

Zimmer writes:

The whole "get a word in the dictionary" plot line is highly reminiscent of the "Kangamangus" episode of Comedy Central's "Sarah Silverman Program," which I discussed here when it aired back in 2008. Whereas the "Sarah Silverman" characters try to get a word past the gatekeepers at the Oxford English Dictionary, the "Sam & Cat" characters approach a lightly fictionalized version, the Oxnard English Dictionary (allowing the show to make various jokes about Oxnard and its strawberries, aka "nardberries"). The dictionary's austere "Word Keepers" say that they will officially recognize "lumpatious" if a famous person uses it, and the young protagonists manage to get the governor of New Jersey to oblige — in a spoof of Gov. Chris Christie that ended up being perfectly timed for the Bridgegate scandal troubling the real-life Christie.

Take a look at rest of Zimmer's piece here, including more discussion of "The Sarah Silverman Program," and a cartoon depiction of lexicographical gate-keepers from a 1923 New York Times Sunday Magazine


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Comments from our users:

Wednesday January 22nd, 1:58 AM
Comment by: Marshall S. (Fairview, OR)
"embiggen"?? Dictionary.com seems to put embiggen in the same "ain't no such a word" category as lumpatious. I think Mr. Zimmer's tongue must have been way over in his cheek. I do admire his subtle effort and I will try to use embiggen wherever possible to help him in his cause.
Wednesday January 22nd, 10:44 AM
Comment by: Ben Zimmer (New York, NY)Visual Thesaurus ContributorVisual Thesaurus Moderator
Marshall -- Embiggen, as fans of "The Simpsons" know, is a perfectly cromulent word. Blogs have been using "click to embiggen" for enlarging images for about a decade now. For more on usage of the term, see this post by Tom Chivers of The Telegraph.
Wednesday January 22nd, 11:25 AM
Comment by: Daniel S. (Bristol United Kingdom)
"A noble heart embiggens the smallest man" - Jebediah Springfield :)

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