Query re the non-divinity of lexicographers

Frank Abate abatefr at EARTHLINK.NET
Sun May 20 11:13:10 UTC 2001

Rudy Troike said:
Dear Friends of Lexicography:

        While many of you who regularly contribute to the ADS list are
admirably and modestly aware of the human frailties of those who labor in
this vineyard, we are also aware of the popular tendency to deify
lexicographers, Webster's having sat beside the Bible on many a frontier
shelf as the only two books in the household.
        A linguistically savvy friend of mine tried convincing a judge
recently of the possible human failings of published dictionaries, and was
met with visceral rejection. His concern arises from the observation that
dictionaries are the primary source of linguistic wisdom among the
judiciary (as if lexicographers didn't have enough weight on their
shoulders!). He would like to be pointed to some good sources that might
be useful in getting across the point that dictionaries are human products
and might (sorry!) at times not attain the perfection that the judiciary



Rudy makes a valuable observation.  In support, I add that, when visiting
the US Capitol, I was struck by the presence of a M-W Unabridged on the
floor of the US House chamber, on a stand to the right of the speaker's
platform.  It was the only book in view.

I did not know about the reverence of judges for dictionaries, but it does
fit with the general American tendency to view the dict as something of a
divinely inspired creation.  Allen Walker Read did a paper specifically on
this, and certainly Sidney Landau's general study "Dictionaries: The Art and
Craft of Lexicography" would be a good source for a true picture of how
dicts are really produced.

One analogy I have used is that to the American book-buying market, it's as
if God Almighty handed "The Dictionary" down to Noah Webster on stone
tablets.  If the public only knew!  Or maybe it's better (for lexos, at
least) that they not know?

[I forward this also to the new DSNA list.]


Frank Abate
Dictionary & Reference Specialists (DRS)
Consulting & Lexicographic Services
(860) 510-0100, ext 2311
abatefr at earthlink.net

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