Archive for January, 2013

DICTIONARIES AND THOSE WHO MAKE THEM

January 5, 2013

2013-01-05Samuel Johnson, the pioneer of English dictionary-making, defined the word “lexicographer” rather pessimistically: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words. In Mr. Johnson’s mind, the adjective “dull” was also associated with writing dictionaries:   Not exhilarating; not delightful; as, to make dictionaries is dull work.

Would the most distinguished man of letters in English history ever have thought that after two and a half centuries the art of compiling dictionaries could be a most exhilarating pursuit both for professionals and amateurs? The dictionary websites of Merriam-Webster, Oxford, Collins, Macmillan etc offer not only definitions, but also all sorts of test, quizzes, blogs, and are interactive to the nth degree. The dynamics of the Internet permits registering “buzz words” the moment they appear. Here are examples of the coinages which were the most popular in British English in 2012 (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20869405 for this)

omnishamblesa complete screw-up in all areas – currently being used to describe the coalition government;

 

2013-01-05Mobotmobotto make an M-shape with your hands and arms above your head. When the British long-distance runner Mo Farah won the 5,000m and 10,000m races in the athletics, for his victory celebration, he put his hands on his head and his arms made the shape of an M. The move was later imitated by other athletes (even though their names didn’t begin with “M”) and even politicians – this time with reference to non-sport events (see the picture);2013-01-05Mobot-by-Boris-Johnson

 

dumbphonea mobile phone with only basic functions (opposite to a smartphone);

 

flexitariana person who follows a primarily, but not strictly, vegetarian diet.

 

Yours truly has also applied himself to the Internet lexicography and takes pride in having enlarged  the multitran.ru by some  dozen words and phrases. See http://www.multitran.ru/c/M.exe?a=116&UserName=Vitaliyb

So, why not  replace Samuel Jonson’s above definition with the antonyms of “dull” — absorbing, engrossing, fascinating, gripping, riveting, entertaining, amusing, diverting, intriguing when we explain what dictionary-making is?

 

It should be noted that the first lexicographers put much of their personalities in their work. Take, for instance, some more of Mr. Johnson’s interpretations:

Pension: An allowance made to any one without an equivalent. In England it is generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country.

Politician: 1. One versed in the arts of government; one skilled in politicks. 2. A man of artifice; one of deep contrivance.

Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people.

2013-01-05A_Dictionary_of_the_English_Language_Noah_Webster_title_pageThe personality of Noah Webster, another great figure, is seen in his dictionary of English, which he made a banner of American independence. He was a patriot through and through and passionately believed that a new nation should have its own language. He said that a national language is a national tie and insisted that the time right after the revolution of 1775-1783 was the time to declare cultural independence too. Sounds quite fresh in the context of today’s Ukraine.

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OUT OF DATE

January 2, 2013

DSC02590That’s the last picture of me in 2012. It was taken by my daughter on December 29 at our company’s corporate party. The long-haired guy on the podium in the background is a pop star. As a rule, some celebrity is invited to perform at such parties. The magnitude of the star attraction depends upon the financial muscle of the company and its connections. This time the chap hadn’t even been announced: it had been presumed that he would be recognized immediately. He appeared from behind the wings as a “surprise” and all to a man roared gleefully the moment they saw him. I didn’t know the celebrity. To make things worse, there was no chance of finding out who the person was: the songs and music were presented in the non-stop mode and they were deafeningly loud killing any attempt to communicate – even if you shouted something into your neighbor’s ear. Later, when an opportunity arose, I addressed my colleague about it. The colleague cast a curious glance at me: “Don’t you know Vladimir Presnyakov?” Seeing no reaction to the name he uttered, the colleague tried to probe deeper into my memory: “You may know the film ‘Over the Rainbow’…An old film…Presnyakov sang a few songs there.” I didn’t know the film. Neither had I heard the songs. Nor was I impressed that Presnyakov’s parents had once sung in the group “Samotsvety” and that Vladimir Presnyakov had once been married to Kristina Orbakaite and that they had a son…

Most surprisingly, I didn’t feel I was in any way awkward or ashamed of my ignorance.

THE NEW YEAR…THE FIRST DAY

January 2, 2013

DSC02593The new year has begun. I can work on The Archers, Monty Python, Benny Hill, Fawlty Towers, the Simpsons…Or continue with the translation of Ulysses into Ukrainian, watch English films on discs, work on the Vocabulary Cards, make up a work sheet in English Phonetics, improve my Deutsches Hörverstehen, expand my Webpage, explore some aspects of Slavic philology in general and Ukrainian philology in particular, carry on with Germanic philology, sift through the treasures I have saved on my computer and accumulated on my bookshelves, etc, etc.  Everything is so thrilling… I have to live another 64 years trying to be perfect in all that. At the moment it’s the Buridan’s-ass-situation: You’re free to choose, but your will cannot break the deadlock of which aspect of enjoyment is more important and what your preference should be…

Wasn’t Thomas Hobson wiser? The owner of a stable of 40 horses gave his customers a free choice of a different character: either to take the horse in the stall closest to the door or not to take any mount at all (if the best horses were always chosen that would make them overused).

I go to http://www.biblegateway.com/ and from the 39 English translations of Psalm 90 choose the one which translates verse 12 best for my situation:

Teach us how short our lives are
so that we can become wise.

 

…The new year has begun.

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