Lexicographer's dilemma

Fri Jun 9 15:55:45 UTC 2000

>From the [New York] Daily News, Thursday, June 8, 2000, Special
Section, p. 26:

"There is a common New Yorkese kind of saying, "Sure, that and a
dollar fifty will get you a ride on the subway."

This is indeed a common way of stating that something is worthless, a
degree from a low-prestige college or in a scorned major, for
instance.  I've known it since the early 60's.  However, over 40
years -- it's not really 40 years since 1960, is it? -- the sum of
money has been adjusted upwards to allow for inflation, and the thing
to be bought has also varied.  I recollect:  "That and a nickle will
get you a cup of coffee," (and it really would, then) or "That and a
dime will get you today's paper" or a ride on the subway.

When the meaningful elements of a saying vary in this way, what does
a lexicographer do?  How can it be entered in a dictionary so that it
will be found?  About 8 years ago American Speech published a note
from me giving late 19th century occurences of similar variable
expressions:  "Your money [dough] is no good [doesn't go] in this
joint [town, up here]", expressing the idea that that the speaker
will pay for everything, and "I can do that standing on my head
[hands]", expressing disdain for a term of imprisonment.


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