the bitchiness of dictionary makers

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sat Apr 29 22:35:21 UTC 2006

I agree completely with your interpretation, Arnold.  And the rhetoric is - what's that word ?  Oh."Stupid."

  The writer is desperately trying to make the subject interesting to people who already realize just how boring it really is.  I see the difference of opinion about hyphenating "bling-bling" as more like the gun battle at the end of _The Wild Bunch_ (1969), with desperate outlaws and the fanatic troops of a corrupt general blasting each other to smithereens as civilization seems to have collapsed and the frat-guy audience is howling like maddened jungle beasts.

  But maybe that's just me.


"Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Arnold M. Zwicky"
Subject: the bitchiness of dictionary makers

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")

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