Compiling a dictionary of almost every word in the English language was a typical Victorian-era endeavor, with white-bearded gentlemen, complete confidence, and an endearing pace. After a quarter of a century, the first opus saw the light of day in 1884. Its content? “A to Ant.”
In our impatient age, the Oxford English Dictionary is in the process of being typed into a third edition, with 619,000 words defined to date, online updates every three months, and a constant stream of digital data to sort through. Gray beards are rare today in his open plan office, just serious editors frowning at flat screens, sometimes whispering to their neighbors. For all the words here, few are spoken aloud.
This silence aside, change is underway in DEO. For the first time in 20 years, the venerable dictionary has a new editor-in-chief, Michael Proffitt. It takes responsibility for preserving the much-vaunted traditions while ensuring relevance in the age of googled definitions and textual discourse.
Proffitt (48), groomed in a suit and tie, defined, researched and managed for the DEO since 1989. He is respectful of old habits but just as ready to reconsider the dictionary, characterizing it less as the heavy volumes of yesteryear than as a mine of invaluable data.
“My idea about dictionaries is that, in a way, their time has come,” he says. “People need filters a lot more than before. As much as I adhere to DEOthe public reputation of, I want proof that it is of value to people in terms of practical use.
Proffitt advocates links in digitized literature to DEO starters; he wants greater use by students, whose distinction between “dictionary” and “web research” is increasingly blurred; he is also ready to lay off DEO data to other companies. The DEO has distinguished itself, in part for its authoritative definitions, but above all for its unparalleled historical quotes, which trace usage through time.
The first edition, proposed in 1858 with a completion expected in 10 years, was not completed until 70 years later, in 1928. The second edition came out in 1989, at a length of 21,730 pages. Work on the third began in 1994, with an expectation of completion in 2005. It was a bit behind – by about 32 years, according to the current estimate of 2037. For all the admirable thoroughness of the DEO, however, nowadays the dictionary is probably more revered than used. Part of the problem is the price.
A 20-volume second edition copy costs around $ 730, with a one-year digital subscription at $ 215 – a tough sell when so many search tools are free online. (Oxford University Press offers a less extended cousin of the DEO for nothing online, under the confusingly similar title Oxford Dictionaries.)
The DEO has yet to fully capitalize on its potential online audience. Proffitt is eager to do so, perhaps with lower prices, certainly with website tweaks and less stifling definitions.
“Many of the first principles of DEO stay firm, but the way it manifests itself has to change and the way it reaches people has to change, ”explains Proffitt, who speaks with a slight Scottish accent and is used to a lexicographer to qualify his speech with sub -titles, historical references and alternate meanings.
However, he’s hardly the tweedy scholar of yesteryear, referring with satisfaction to writing the entry for “phat” (“a. Of a person, especially a woman: sexy, attractive. B. Music area: excellent, admirable; trendy, ‘cool’. ”).
Language and Literature
Raised in Edinburgh, Proffitt moved south to study at the University of Oxford, where he studied English language and literature. After graduation, he floated from job to job for a while, then spotted an ad in a newspaper: the DEO was hiring. Editors who toast him during his job interview later confessed that they didn’t expect him to stay long. “But it attracted me,” Proffitt says 25 years later.
For all technical speeches, certain analog ways persist, notably in the Quotes Room, a repository of quotations from words on little pieces of paper. Many of these were posted decades ago by volunteers around the world, the most prolific of which are identified by their distinctive handwriting and to which the editors affectionately refer: “He’s a Laski” or “The One- this is from Collier in Australia ”.
In the 19th century, the main obstacle to writing this contemplated dictionary of “every word appearing in the literature of the language it claims to illustrate” was the search for suitable quotes, hidden as they were in a myriad of dusty tomes. . Today, the editorial staff of around 70 people – with access to vast digital archives – faces the opposite problem: too much information.
“We can hear everything that has been going on in the world of English over the past 500 years, and it’s deafening,” says associate editor Peter Gilliver, who has spent nine months revising definitions of the word. “Run” – the longest single entry in the DEO.
Literary texts made up most of the quotes in the early days of the dictionary. The current text, however, is much more inclusive, with blog and Twitter posts, gravestone quotes, and a school yearbook listing. The goal is to find the oldest and most illustrative uses of a word, not to bless anything as “real English”.
Whenever commentators berate the DEO to admit teenage slang or marketing jargon, they misunderstand the dictionary, which is not intended to define how language should be used, but only how it is.
This raises a question: if the dictionary simply describes what exists, then why not include every word? When the DEO necessary to fit into printed volumes, this notion was fancy. Now, when there is doubt that the third edition will ever appear on paper, why not use the digital space to accommodate it all?
Lack of resources
say it DEO lack of resources to transform this way. Instead, he advocates a federation of reference books. “The superdictionary can, in fact, be superdictionaries,” he adds. “What you want is some sort of search which then sends you to the right place.”
By supporting the most esteemed disc of the most global language, Proffitt can face criticism no matter what it takes. Some will complain if he brings the change, others if he resists it, but years of working with words – meanings change, expand, disappear altogether, joined by new coins – offer perspective. particular.
“It makes you, basically, more tolerant or more calm or placid,” he said, hastily adding, “I don’t know if those words are appropriate, but seeing the historical context often persuades you that what Seemed like a hard-and-fast rule isn’t. And, in the same way that language changes, its uses change. The more flexible people are about the use of language, then probably the more they thrive. ”
– (New York Times service)
WINSTON CHURCHILL? OMG!
Traditionalists lament the decline of the English language, but historical quotes in the Oxford English Dictionary show that many infamous terms today are older than expected.
1 OMG The first recorded appearance of this breathless acronym for
“Oh my God” comes, surprisingly, in a letter to Winston Churchill in 1917.
2 Literally Cranky words scowl when “literally” is used figuratively. Examples of this reversal date back to 1769. Even Mark Twain did.
3 As Few words annoy the purist like “like”. Put in sentences, “like” has been a stopover for the hesitant, and not just pre-teens, since 1778.
4 Disagreement Facebook was born in 2004. Unfriending started a little earlier, in 1659.
5 No matter The first record of this fashionable replica may not be centuries ago. Yet 41 years old is more than many of its expert practitioners.