Grow smaller.

Thomas Paikeday t.paikeday at SYMPATICO.CA
Sun Mar 25 15:56:51 UTC 2001

I like this from a professional point of view.

MW presumably includes the "reverse sense" (not a far cry from the
negative) in "4a: to pass into a condition: BECOME <grew pale>."
However, I have the following axes to grind, in reverse order of

First, a good corpus or corpus-based lexicography seems indicated. The
capacity to generate two hundred million citations is better than a
manual file of perhaps 15 million cites.

A quick check of a 1989-1990 corpus I used for my last dictionary shows
the reverse sense of "grow" very frequent in current English. Growing
can be not only small(er) in size, but also slow(er) and growth can be
slow(ly) and old(er) in time, and dark(er), etc. in condition. (This is
comparable to wax, as in to wax cautious, eloquent, lyrical, nostalgic,
optimistic, poetic, philosophical, etc., if you will pardon the

Secondly, most modern-day dictionaries are well known to be based on the
OED, Merriam following even its historical ordering of senses. I don't
have the online OED, but my 1992 disk has def. "11a. to come or pass by
degrees (in)to some state or condition.... c1590 Marlowe: ... he is
grown into some sickness by being over-solitary." The Marlowe citation
clearly shows a negative sense. The 1993 Shorter Oxford has a def. 8
(not in the 1992 disk unless I missed something in my hurried look):
"increase in some specified quality or property. Archaic. Late ME"
[hmmm!]. The COD of five years later is much better. See def. "4 intr.
a. become gradually (grow rich, grow less)." Note the reverse sense of
"grow less." Will someone please check and report on the online OED

Thirdly, the root of all evil in derivative lexicography:

In my view, desk (and smaller) dictionaries of contemporary English
should not only be based on good contemporary corpora, but they should
eschew abstractness and go for the concrete because that is how language
exists and is USED. (Mark would have had less of a problem locating the
meaning in question if MW were less abstract). In a USER'S (regd.
trademark, hmmm!) dictionary, actual usage, I mean idiomatic
illustrative phrases and sentences based on good citations, should be
used. Abstract definitions proceeding by genus and differentia should be
avoided; a good synonym sometimes suffices. The 1995 Cambridge
International Dictionary of English (Please don't give me any red
herrings like ESL) sets a good example by disposing of the definitions
of "grow" in just two words: INCREASE, BECOME.

I too was supposed to be watching the Oscars. This has been a long
commercial break!

(lexicographer since 1964)

Mark Odegard wrote:
> I see neither the online MW nor AHD4 mention 'grow' as also capable of
> bearing the a 'reverse' sense as with 'grow smaller'.
> As Oscar night progresses, the East Coast audience will grow smaller as
> people drift off to bed.
> _________________________________________________________________
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