Fw: "esquivalience" is out

Thomas Paikeday thomaspaikeday at SPRINT.CA
Sat Oct 8 01:39:51 UTC 2005

Re: esquivalience and such ghost entriesHi Erin,

Good to hear you will delete "esquivalience" from NOAD. I am taking the liberty of posting this friendly exchange to the List in case it interests others.

On the other points, however, we have to agree to disagree. I view lexicography not as a creative effort (as in "creative accounting") but as an effort to describe what exists, based on solid evidence, similar to anatomy and cartography. An anatomist cannot presume to create organs and structures that don't exist, not even plausible ones. A route to India by sailing west was quite plausible, but they couldn't put out a map of the world based on theories. The route had to be discovered first.

Thanks for your comments.


P.S. My comments (slightly edited) are in blue, Erin's in black.
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Erin McKean 
  To: Thomas Paikeday 
  Cc: RonButters at aol.com 
  Sent: Wednesday, October 05, 2005 5:53 PM
  Subject: Re: esquivalience and such ghost entries

  Dear Tom,

  Thank you for such a kind email! . . . and Ron of course makes an excellent judge. (He would certainly be a better nominee to the SCOTUS than the one in the news this week!)
  I'll try to be Devil's Advocate below, since I've had to be it so often over the last few weeks!

  1. People resort to dictionaries as to the Bible. Anything in a dictionary is practically the word of God in regard to the language. We are therefore betraying a sacred trust by entering (mortal sin) and condoning (venial sin) fraudulent information in our dictionaries.

  I think there's a difference between plausible, yet not-naturally-occurring information and fraudulent information. If we gave an existing word a definition that was not usual, that would be fraudulent and misleading. Creating an entirely new and fairly plausible word, one that could only be discovered accidentally, seems to be less problematic, in that even if someone did run across it and use it, it's not misuse. And the usual penalties for things that "aren't real words" don't apply in this case, because someone who would chide another for using something that "wasn't a real word" would be silenced by the evidence in the dictionary.

  2. Typos and other accidental errors are understandable, like the notorious "Dord" in a Merriam-Webster.

  I find typo ghost words less acceptable, although it's understandable why they happen, because they change a real word to a ghost!

  3. If I were you (as the new chief of NOAD) I would delete "esquivalience". Maybe you are planning to do just that.

  Yes, because it's been "outed." However, people now seem to be using it, so perhaps we will have to put it back in a few years from now!

  4. There are other, albeit less dramatic, ways of exposing plagiarists without poisoning our own well, so to say.

  I agree, and I think that if we had the money, we could use them (steganography would be nice). We're not so much worried about the paper-lexicographers as we are about the online pirates (and I'm not even really worried about them). As your fellow Canadian Cory Doctorow has said, if they like you enough to steal your stuff now, somewhere down the road they'll fork over real money!

  5. As for copyright, I don't think new words entering the lexicon are the property of any lexicographer. If anything, they belong to the speech community.

  This is true!

  What is protected by copyright is the distinctive definitions we try to write. I guess we have to do this even for pedestrian, esp. non-lexical (more correctly, encyclopedic) entries like "aardvark." (I've illustrated this in my piece on plagiarism at ww.paikeday.net).

  Yes, but it's also valuable to lexicographers to see who is copying your wordlists blindly, without doing original research, because that discourages YOU from treating THEIR book as a point of evidence, helps you put together marketing materials, and, also (more cruelly) keeps you from hiring them for your future projects!

  6. Committing the very crime plagiarists are accused of in order to teach them the art of good lexicography doesn't seem very smart to me! It's at least illogical. 

  This is the part I don't understand. The plagiarists are copying, without doing original research. Our fake entry copies no one (and was the product of, shall we say, HIGHLY original research). What are we doing that the plagiarists are doing?

  A very sophistical argument!

  Of course, I enjoyed the entire "esquivalience" entry: definition, illustrative sentences, derivatives, and etymology. This bit of lexicography was certainly not the work of a harmless drudge!

  Thank you! It was invented by Christine Lindberg, our senior lexicographer -- I can take no credit for the joy of the word. :-).

  Christine may want to compile an entire dictionary of invented words, just for the fun of it.

  Thanks again for your email!


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