Mission of the American Dialect Society--the "so what?" question

David Bowie db.list at PMPKN.NET
Mon Nov 3 14:10:53 UTC 2003

From:    Gerald Cohen <gcohen at UMR.EDU>
: At 10:38 AM -0500 11/1/03, Mai Kuha wrote:

: >Thanks for articulating that, Scott. This is what I've felt for years.
: >Interesting messages are the ones in which the answer to "so what?" is
: >stated, hinted at, asked about, or recoverable to readers. We can all
: >benefit a great deal when lexicographical contributions make a more or
: >less explicit point about, say, a folk etymology, an interesting word
: >formation process, an inaccuracy in current thought on which sounds can
: >occur together, or the relationship between language and social
: >conditions or political events. (Maybe the "so what" is always perfectly
: >obvious to all lexicographers??)

:     First, asking "So what?" conveys a tinge of
: irritation/aggressiveness/disinterest, i.e., it is not really
: appropriate for a scholarly discussion conducted in a spirit of good
: will...

Hmmm...And here I go, devoting the last 3 minutes of every conference
presentation I ever give to explicitly asking the "So what?" question and
trying to answer it. (Of course, to satisfy one of my dissertation readers I
had to remove a line about applications of research being good--the reader
said it was "anti-intellectual"--so maybe I'm completely out of line on this
sort of thing.)

I tend to think that asking "So what?" is a most excellent check on the
navel-gazing that those involved in academic/scholarly pursuits are prone
to. Of course, the answers for different pursuits will be different--an
antedating of "ice cream cone" will have a different sort of answer to "So
what?" than my own work, for example.

In any event, all that said, I like having the list in its current
more-or-less double-headed form--I'm not professionally interested in
antedatings, but some are highly interesting to me at a personal level.

Everyone who's discussing how to help people filter messages they might not
be interested in, though, should be aware that subject line markers won't
help those of us who get this list in digest form--we'll have to scroll
through the whole thing anyway.

I'm sure, though, that our collective index finger will survive the stress.


David Bowie                                         http://pmpkn.net/lx
    Jeanne's Two Laws of Chocolate: If there is no chocolate in the
    house, there is too little; some must be purchased. If there is
    chocolate in the house, there is too much; it must be consumed.

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