DICTIONARIES AND THOSE WHO MAKE THEM

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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