the bitchiness of dictionary makers

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Sat Apr 29 19:15:15 UTC 2006

Andrew O'Hagan's positive review of Henry Hitching's Defining the
World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary (NYRB
4/27/06, pp. 12-13) -- which is much more about Johnson than about
Hitchings or his book -- begins with a slam at lexicographers:

If you keep an eye on them, you might notice that dictionary-makers
are marginally bitchier than runway models.  A few summers ago, the
revised editions of the _Chambers Dictionary_ and the _Oxford
Dictionary of English_  were published into an avid marketplace.
Ourt came the knives, as the great lexicographers of today rolled
their eyes at one another and balanced their inky fingernails on
their slender hips.  [am i over-sensitive, or is this an insinuation
that lexicographers are a bunch of young women and goddam pansies?]
"Bling-bling" is one word separated by a  hyphen, said _Oxford_.  Not
at all, honey-pie.  [another slam?]  Two words and no hyphen, said
_Chambers_, summoning the authority of the ancients, or Puff Daddy,
seeing as the ancients were unavailable.

the piece then settles into less, well, bitchy prose: "Authority and
provenance are watchwords for the dictionary-making classes."  (did
you folks realize that you constituted a class?)

arnold, noting that the sentence "There is only a handful of writers
who are writer enough to bring freshness to literary history" made
him somerwhat uncomfortable both grammatically ("are" is the way i'd
go") and stylistically ("writers" ... "writer")

The American Dialect Society -

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