Thursday, April 13, 2006

America's lexicographical blogger

Erin McKean of the OED is guest-blogging this week at the Powell's Books blog.

In "What's a Word Gotta Do to Get in This Joint, Anyway?" she writes about how words that make it into the dictionary aren't necessarily any more real than words that don't; they're just more useful. Especially pertinent to copy editors:
Some people have the idea that if a word isn't in the dictionary, they can't use it. This is not a rule any lexicographer ever came up with (think about it — if this were true, we'd all be out of jobs right quick) and luckily not a rule that most people follow. If a word you want to use isn't in the dictionary (and you're sure you haven't just misspelled it — hey, don't worry, it happens to everyone), go ahead and use it! That's the best way to get it in the next edition, and then everyone's happy.
In "What Do Lexicographers Do All Day, Anyway?" Erin describes what must be one of the greatest jobs in the world. Ever. She reads a lot. Answers e-mails about words. Speaks to groups about dictionaries, aka "dictionary evangelism." (And this is where I learned that "pronunciation editors exist: orthoepists.)

And, in the comments, when someone asks her to pretty please take "irregardless" out of the dictionary, she responds:
Sorry, Will, "irregardless" is in to stay. Not because we think it's the GREATEST WORD EVER (we don't) but because we think it's a heck of a lot more useful to put it in with a big warning sign (ours reads "Irregardless is avoided by careful users of English.") than to leave it out and let people flail around without the benefit of that helpful hint.
It's funny that all this stuff cropped up this week. I've been collecting some links from other people who have huge Erin McKean crushes. I'll try to post that stuff later tonight.


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