UPDATED: What the hell are those lexicographers thinking?

Colleague and friend Erin McKean is guestblogging about dictionaries and lexicography this week over at The Volokh Conspiracy.

Part 1: The Myth of the Lexicographer-Judge. “The other myth about lexicographers is that we are horrified, appalled, and indeed, quite put out when we see misspellings, nonstandard usages, slang, or informality in general. This is ridiculous—it’s like expecting doctors to faint at the sight of blood.”

Part 2: Why Inartful Isn’t In. “When thinking about how words enter a dictionary, the most important thing to understand is that there are many, many more words than there are places in any current dictionary. Because of this scarcity, lexicographers are driven to a kind of triage. Often, the question isn’t ‘how can I justify including this word?’ but ‘How can I justify EXCLUDING this word?’”

Part 3: That’s Not a Word! “Words aren’t like Bigfoot: a moment’s glimpse of a fabled creature isn’t sufficient proof for cryptozoology. But just one momentary use is perfectly fine for determining whether or not a word is ‘real.’ The big question is what you can do with it, not whether it exists in the first place.”

Update:

Part 4: Dictionary Myths. “The beautiful thing about lexicography: it’s important, and you work hard to make the best dictionaries you can, but it’s not (as the joke goes) rocket surgery: the odds of someone dying because there’s a typo in an entry are very, very low.”

Posted September 27, 2007

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