Most Popular Dictionaries in Libraries

Thomas Paikeday thomaspaikeday at SPRINT.CA
Wed Dec 28 15:51:11 UTC 2005

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Page Stephens" <hpst at EARTHLINK.NET>
Sent: Tuesday, December 27, 2005 11:50 AM
Subject: Re: Most Popular Dictionaries in Libraries

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Page Stephens <hpst at EARTHLINK.NET>
> Subject:      Re: Most Popular Dictionaries in Libraries
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Many years ago Rex Stout wrote in one of his Nero Wolfe novels about the
> time when Archie Goodwin walked in on Wolfe in the front room of the old
> brownstone only to find Wolfe tearing out each page of Webster's New
> International Dictionary Third Edition, wadding them up and throwing them
> into the fireplace. When Archie asked him why he was doing this Wolf
> replied that he would not have a dictionary in his house which defined
> infer as a synonym for imply. When someone asked Stout about what he had
> done with his own copy he replied that he had soaked it in kerosine and
> used it to smoke out a wasps' nest.
> His argument was that it was not a writer's dictionary which gave
> information about correct usage and was therefore useless to him. He also
> once wrote via Wolfe that contact is not a verb in this house.
> I  bought my own copy of the second edition from a library sale since it
> had been out of print for a few years when I finally discovered one.
> Stout always allows Archie who is from Ohio which is near to where Stout
> grew up in the midwest to use slang but Wolfe is always grammatically
> correct in spite of the fact that he is a non native English speaker. On
> the other hand Archie's use of slang, ie finif (from the Yiddish) for a
> five doillar bill always sounds to my midwestern ear more New York than
> anything I ever heard growing up.
> This brings up another problem which has always intrigued me. Two of the
> most precise writers of English prose I have ever read are Joseph Conrad
> and Vladimir Nabakov neither of whom were native speakers of English.
> Anyone have any ideas on this subject?
> Page Stephens
Dr. Stephens,

On the subject of native speakers, I think you should be a true skeptic (as you profess on your website) and join me in declaring "The Native Speaker Is Dead!" (my monograph on the subject, available in libraries of many universities where linguistics is taught).


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