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The Internet Books Education

You're Thinking About the Dictionary All Wrong, Lexicographers Say (theoutline.com) 130

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Outline: It seems like ever since "bootylicious" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in 2004, dictionaries have been trying to play catch up to ever-evolving languages of slang, especially when it comes to words originating with African Americans and other communities of color. User-generated definitions found on websites like Urban Dictionary and Genius are also giving them some competition. But in fact, lexicographers have always intended the dictionary to be more of an archive than an authority. The purpose of the dictionary has always been to record how language is being used, but the internet has allowed publishers and lexicographers to communicate that purpose differently, explained Kory Stamper, lexicographer and author of Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, to The Outline. "I think people assume that because dictionaries are dusty books that the language is this dusty book or that language is only what you find in the dictionary," Stamper said. "And to be able to say, 'No, language is always on the move and here's how it's moving,' really mirrors the way that we can interact with people online." Thanks to the internet, it's now easier for lexicographers to access more written materials and take note of the ways people are using and producing language. And as a result, dictionaries are updated more frequently and more robustly than they were in the days of print-only source material. "Woke" was just one of 1200 new additions to the OED this quarter alone. But even with all the technology afforded to them, lexicographers still walk a fine line between including words that are well-known enough without being too obscure. "We joke around that when we add new words we want 50 percent of the people who see that new word to say, 'Oh my gosh that's not in the dictionary yet?'" said Stamper, who writes for Merriam-Webster. "And then we want the other half of people to go, 'I don't even know what this word is. Why are you adding it to the dictionary?'"
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You're Thinking About the Dictionary All Wrong, Lexicographers Say

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  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Friday June 30, 2017 @04:47PM (#54721813) Homepage

    They insist on teaching things in a very despotic manner, creating grammar nazis.

    We need to teach people that it is ok to create a word, as long as you define it clearly. Spelling should explain legal variations and why they are accepted.

    • by epyT-R ( 613989 ) on Friday June 30, 2017 @05:14PM (#54722007)

      um what? In programming, we favor strongly typed languages for a reason: so that expressed data remains consistent as it is communicated to different objects. This applies to spoken/written languages for the same reason: so that expressed meaning remains consistent as it is communicated to different people. Does this always work out? No, mainly because human communication is a lot more organic, but it's still a lot better than allowing arbitrary word redefinitions in the dictionary to soothe those with specific political sensitivities (which is the obvious intent given in the summary).

      In programming, the compiler handles syntax errors for us, and forces us to conform to it so that it has a chance of interpreting our logic correctly. If we don't, we can't run our programs. With spoken language, mishandling syntax can do anything from creating humorous double entendres to starting wars. Some grammar (and spelling!) 'nazism' during the formative years ensures that kids have some chance at communicating clearly as adults.

      • The obvious intent is actually to record the language as it's being used, rather than trying to stick to an approved language like the French are trying to do. If you don't like the way people are using the language and creating new words, that's one thing, but trying to freeze an evolving language is stupid. (See "the French" earlier.) The changes you call "arbitrary" are based on actual usage, and it's OK if you disapprove of it because your opinion doesn't matter. You can of course refuse to use neo

        • You can of course refuse to use neologisms yourself, but you're one among hundreds of millions, and the OED is unlikely to notice thatone fewer person uses "bootylicious".

          The correct thing to do would be to increase the threshold so it doesn't notice the handful of retards who do use it.

          They'll be using "asstastic" or something equally vacuous within a few weeks anyway.

      • Exactly.

        I've seen people waste huge amounts of time when they didn't share the same definition for the same word.

        Entire 30 page discussions turned on people each using overloaded words to mean their chosen meaning instead of discussing what the shared meaning should be.

        God is one of the ultimate overloaded words (for example).

        You really need to specify Yahweh, Vishnu, Allah, etc.

        • You really need to specify Yahweh, Vishnu, Allah, etc.

          Allah is the Arabic word for God. It's identical in terms of it being both the generic word and carrying a more specific meaning when capitalized. They also both refer to the same 'god', that of Abraham, which is Yahweh.

          • No they really don't.

            Many Jewish Orthodox people have said strongly that the christian "god" is not their god.

            But thanks for the perfect example. The gods of each religion are NOT the same, have very different personalities, desires and characteristics.

            But it makes many people feel comfortable (at first), the paper over the differences.

            • Many Jewish Orthodox people have said strongly that the christian "god" is not their god.

              Well considering it's all make-believe anyway, who can really say they are wrong?

              But if you understand the history of the Abrahamic religions, then they clearly are. If they want to be in denial about their own history, that's perfectly fine.

              • Jewish people can say that stuff christians make up about their religion is wrong. For a start, they don't think jesus is the god, the son of god, etc. But there are *many* other books of the bible which christianity has which the jewish faith does not. And there are many texts besides the old testament the jewish faith has but christians do not.

                They are not the same religion and they don't have the same view of the diety.

                The religions are about as similar as people living in London today are the same as

      • If human spoken language was as rigid and rule abiding as programming language,
        we will probably be still communicating by "Ug !"s and "Arg!"s.
        And hitting with club the head of anyone not following the same caveman conventions as anyone else.

        Language evolve. New words and rules are constantly created, as people continue to speak.
        Some variation become widespread and eventually aren't considered as errors anymore as poeple get used to them and start using them too.
        And that's how you end-up speaking english, wh

    • They insist on teaching things in a very despotic manner, creating grammar nazis.

      We need to teach people that it is ok to create a word, as long as you define it clearly. Spelling should explain legal variations and why they are accepted.

      despotism != precision.

      The vast majority of people who misspell words are not doing it to be creative in a literary or poetic sense. They're just being careless, ignorant, or both.

      Expressing yourself with proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar shows to others that you care about what you say, and you want others to do the same. But I give a pass to those who may have trouble with a language due to education or cultural challenges (.e.g, ESL speakers.) The point is to do the best you can, and not be slopp

    • Indeed, a cromulently defined new word embiggens us all!

    • "Woke" is a self-aggrandizing term used by those with ultra-liberal political views to describe people who feel the same way as they do about social and political issues. It has the connotation of "someone who has become enlightened and woken up". It's as self-serving a term as "tolerant", which is a term I have heard some of the most intolerant people apply to themselves.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Meh.

  • by KlomDark ( 6370 ) on Friday June 30, 2017 @04:51PM (#54721837) Homepage Journal

    Woke was just added? I've heard people say "I just woke up" for decades.

    Is this real, or one of those "The word 'gullible' is not in the dictionary" scenarios?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by myoparo ( 933550 )

      This is real. As best as I can tell, it's some idiotic slang form that resembles 'awakened'.

      http://www.urbandictionary.com... [urbandictionary.com]

    • by Tailhook ( 98486 )

      Woke as in #staywoke; keep being outraged.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by OverlordQ ( 264228 )

      No, just some new retarded definition.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's "woke" as in "I'm a moron SJW" definition, not "I woke up." You're "woke" if you think white males are destroying society.

    • Woke was just added? I've heard people say "I just woke up" for decades.

      Dude, that was one bootylicious comment.

    • Re:Woke? (Score:5, Informative)

      by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Friday June 30, 2017 @06:39PM (#54722495)

      The word that was added was an adjective form, with some adverb usage, with a very distinct meaning. One is "woke" if one is cognizant of the full scope of social inequalities and the need for remedial action. Conversely, one is "unwoke" if one is unaware of same. There's some grammatical weirdness with certain forms - "more woke" is the only comparative I see but "wokest" is the accepted superlative. Example sentence: "Despite the Clintons' high regard within the community, Bernie was probably the only truly woke candidate in the '16 elections".

      • One is "woke" if one is cognizant of the full scope of social inequalities and the need for remedial action.

        So basically "aware". Or would that trigger nudists?

        • "Woke" is a subset of "aware", dealing specifically with social justice issues (so one does not need to say what the subject is aware of when using "woke"). For example, one can be aware of a road closing, but not woke to it. There is an implication of a default state of "unwoke" or metaphorically asleep that one wakes from to become "woke".

      • pffft, that particular piece of slang will go out of style faster than a paperback pocket dictionary containing it will. The dictionary makers are trying to be PC by including transient slang of "people of color". What a farce.

        • This new meaning has been extant for at least three years now, and shows no sign of decreased use. It's spread from the black immigrant community to the larger African-American community to the general liberal movement - it is used in gender and LGBT contexts as well as racial, and there are scattered classist uses that seem to be considered borderline.

          Regardless, a descriptivist dictionary ought to include it, no matter how fleeting it may turn out to be. Dictionary definitions for words everyone knows are

          • I've heard woke being used for decades among the black community (Ebonics) to just mean "awake". Like "hey, is you woke" or "when has you woke this morning". I never heard some white SJW co-opt it.

            • They done gone and did it now fuh shizzle, nawamean?

              #CULTURALAPPROPRIATION

            • That's just normal verb conjugation in AAVE dialect. It's obviously a precursor but the word has gathered additional specific meaning in wider English usage.

          • nah, already on the decline since 2016 when white teens in the USA adopted it to be hip, diluting its #BlackLivesMatter created meaning. Its origin was in the 2008 song by Erykah Baduâ(TM)s âoeMaster Teacher"

    • They added a definition of the word as an adjective meaning "alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice".
  • Breaking news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Friday June 30, 2017 @04:54PM (#54721847)

    "Experts" say "non-experts" are wrong about something.

  • we need dictionaries to catch up so i can finally play thicc in scrabble.
  • This book is on my reading list: "Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries" [amzn.to] by Kory Stamper. The author recently had an opinion piece [nytimes.com] in The New York Times, and The New York Times previously had an article on her workplace [nytimes.com], Merriam-Webster.
  • Dictionaries are descriptive and NOT proscriptive.
  • What publishers really want is to sell more dictionaries. Including popular/fad words like '"bootylicious" that will be out out of style in 5 years and all but forgotten in 10 is done to drive sales.
  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Friday June 30, 2017 @05:06PM (#54721945)

    ...The purpose of the dictionary has always been to record how language is being used...

    Not all dictionaries have the same philosophy when it comes to definitions. I prefer the Random House Unabridged dictionary from about 20 years ago, instead of a Merriam Webster dictionary from the same time period. The reason for my preference is simple, the Random House Unabridged was a very conservative dictionary. It did not accept and document just any spelling or usage of a word. It prescribed correct usage. While the Merriam-Webster dictionary was a lot quicker to document and accept new spellings and usages. It described the more current usage.

    .
    I still use the Random House Unabridged dictionary. Disk capacity has increased enough since the 90's that I now can easily fit the entire CD-ROM image of the dictionary with all its 350,000 words and all of the spoken pronunciations on my hard drive (actually a SSD).

    I use Urban Dictionary to keep me up to date on the more current words. But for the day in, day out, definitions, I still go to the more conservative Randon House Unabridged.

    • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Friday June 30, 2017 @05:23PM (#54722061) Journal

      I wouldn't trust urban dictionary. Pretty much any collection of letters with fewer than 29 bits of entropy appears to be a word describing some filthy sex act.

    • You're contrasting two dictionaries with the same philosophy when it comes to definitions. They just differ on how much usage it takes to be worth putting something into their dictionary. There is no "correct" meaning of a word or usage, there's only what people will say and understand. Preferring a more conservative approach is fine (I'm something of a language traditionalist), but it is a difference in degree rather than a difference in kind.

      • You're contrasting two dictionaries with the same philosophy when it comes to definitions.

        In my experience, they are different, as I described.

        ...There is no "correct" meaning of a word or usage...

        Never said there was. :)

      • Essentially you need something like a low pass filter to keep this week's buzzword[1] out, at least until it stands the test of time.

        [1] Which probably was a buzzword when it first came out.

    • It prescribed correct usage

      What is correct usage of a language if not the usage accepted most commonly?

  • Not quite right (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rgmoore ( 133276 ) <glandauer@charter.net> on Friday June 30, 2017 @05:21PM (#54722043) Homepage

    It seems to me that the confusion is because dictionaries have both functions. Yes, they've always been intended to be descriptive, providing a guide to the language as people actually use it. But they've also always had some tendency to be prescriptive, telling people what the accepted correct usage is. A good example is with word pairs like imply/infer or compose/comprise, where there's a "standard" usage that gives each word a distinct and non-overlapping meaning and a common usage where they can be used interchangeably for some meanings. A good dictionary will list the overlapping meaning but provide a note saying that it's non-standard usage.

  • You're Thinking About the Dictionary All Wrong

    • "I thought it was a long poem about everything."
    • "If a word in the dictionary were misspelled, how would we know? "

    - Steven Wright

  • dictionary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Friday June 30, 2017 @05:25PM (#54722069)

    I have no problems with any generally or even somewhat generally-used word being placed in the dictionary. It only serves to help people decode what is being said out there in the real-world.

    My issue is that many people believe that just because a word is contained in the dictionary, that it somehow validates the word as "proper" English. Those same people tend to miss the coding for "slang", "improper", "colloquial", "informal", and "vulgar" in the definition. Of course the recent trend is now to down-play those categories and coding in fear they might, gasp, offend someone. Thus, the political-correctness movement often erodes the effectiveness of communication. Also, speaking and writing with poor grammar and word choices does put one at a disadvantage when seeking to be taken seriously or professionally.

    My best English teacher would be rolling in her grave if she heard some of what many supposedly educated people say nowadays (of course, I suppose each generation could say that :) )

    • Thus, the political-correctness movement often erodes the effectiveness of communication.

      This is by design. The proponents of such things are engaged in the same work as the Ministry of Truth in 1984. They really believe that they can modify language to make expressing certain kinds of thoughts impossible, to make thought crime impossible.

      This is double plus good!

    • There's also the competition to have the most definitions, which means they include something joe_dragon mistyped, once.

  • There's only one reason individuals & institutions reference the Oxford English Dictionary and it isn't to keep up with slang. Funny how Oxford English Dictionary lexicographers want to keep in sync with popular use of English, but, don't seem want to keep in sync with the dictionary's current role as a de facto authoritative reference. There more it strays from that de facto role, the more likely it is to lose its relevance...and enviable position as the world's authority in a rapidly growing languag

  • by Zobeid ( 314469 ) on Friday June 30, 2017 @08:34PM (#54722947)

    > But in fact, lexicographers have always intended the dictionary to be more of an archive than an authority. The purpose of the dictionary has always been to record how language is being used...

    Au contraire! For a long time dictionaries were more prescriptive than descriptive. They described how words ought to be used in correct or standard English, not how people were actually using (or mis-using) them. A lot of people liked it that way. They liked getting some guidance from their dictionary, and being able to settle questions with it. Now that's out of fashion, and dictionaries have become all about documenting whatever is being written or spoken.

    I still keep a copy of Webster's New International Dictionary Second Editon Unabridged with Reference History from 1934 (the notorious "dord" dictionary!) because I like its authoritative stance and its extra material which made it almost like a mini-encyclopedia. (And I still keep a copy of The Elements of Style around too, so everyone will know what a linguistic dinosaur I am.)

The trouble with being punctual is that people think you have nothing more important to do.

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