By most reliable measures, 2016 has been a very good year for fiction lovers. I'm not talking here about literature; I'm talking about the opposite of fact. In mid-November, Oxford Dictionaries declared post-truth to be its word of the year. Indeed, it's been a banner year for all the words we have at our disposal to say, "Nope, it just ain't so."  Continue reading...
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Thanks to numerous anecdotes about the old and new ways of the lexicography, I quite enjoyed The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of it All at the Oxford English Dictionary, the memoir of John Simpson, former Chief Editor. Simpson was a participant and prime mover in the huge changes to the OED, which saw the dictionary finally being produced, "from the computer database, not from copper plates." Because of the unique insights into the most important and impressive dictionary in English, this is a book any word lover should enjoy.  Continue reading...
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Every month I collect and inspect a plethora of sneaky terms from sources far and wide, to share a laugh over the human race's ludicrous attempts at lexical trickery. This month, the euphs are all coming from a single source I wish to celebrate: Green's Dictionary of Slang (GDoS).  Continue reading...
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One of the ways in which massive corpora (databases of natural language examples) have revolutionized lexicography is by providing access to a level of statistical analysis of language that was never before possible. The data in a corpus can tell us, with the effort of a few keystrokes—and backed by the effort of hundreds of person-hours of software development—all we need to know about the most frequent uses and collocations of words.  Continue reading...
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A popular song from early in the 20th century, covered many times since then, was Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine. The song came to my mind last month, when I returned to the East Coast to attend an annual party that I had missed two years running. All the old familiar faces were there, but with a twist: three of the party's couples, previously "partnered," are now married.  Continue reading...
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Blog Excerpts

A Junior Dictionary Kerfuffle

"The lexicographic kerfuffle, thank goodness, isn't dead," writes Stefan Fatsis in The New Yorker. Fatsis is referring to the recent controversy over the Oxford Junior Dictionary, which has substituted all-natural words like "almond," "blackberry," and "minnow," with such 21st-century fare as "blog," "chatroom," and "database." Some noted writers have said they are "profoundly alarmed" by the changes. Read all about it here.
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HuffPost Live hosted a chat about the uncertain future of dictionaries in the digital era. Among the panelists was our own Ben Zimmer, who talked about how the move away from the printed page opens up exciting new possibilities for what a dictionary can do.  Continue reading...
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