Webster’s Third New International Dictionary

Gove, Philip Babcock, ed. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 1993.

Originally published in 1961 and updated with a supplement in 1993, this dictionary has some 450,000 entries. Good, if lacking in detail, etymologies make this a nice factual source for word origins. Available online as a subscription service.

The Collegiate edition is available online for free here.

The Third New International was quite controversial when it was published for being overly permissive in that it eliminated usage labels like “colloquial,” “erroneous,” and “incorrect,” and for innovative editorial practices that discomfited and outraged many. Webster’s Third is somewhat long in the tooth nowadays, but it remains a very useful dictionary.

Historical Dictionary of American Slang

Lighter, J. E., ed. Historical Dictionary of American Slang. Two vols. New York: Random House, 1994-97.

An invaluable source for non-standard, American words and phrases beginning with A–O. A historical dictionary, the HDAS provides comprehensive citations of usage that outline each term’s history. It is a superb supplement to the OED, correcting two innate biases in the first two editions of that dictionary, giving short shrift to American usage and to slang terms. Even though it is incomplete, it is an invaluable resource.

The first two volumes were published by Random House. When that publisher folded its dictionary division, the project was abandoned. Oxford University Press acquired the rights and the database that underlies the dictionary, but is not continuing the project.

Dictionary of American Regional English

Cassidy, Frederic C., and Joan Houston Hall, eds. Dictionary of American Regional English. Six vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1985-2013. Volume 1: Introduction and A-C, Volume 2: D-H, Volume 3: I-O, Volume 4: P-Sk, Volume 5: Sl-Z, Volume 6: Maps and Supplementary Material.

The online version is here (paywall).

One of the most ambitious linguistic projects of recent years, DARE is an attempt to capture the regional slang and dialect of America. An unparalleled resource.

American Heritage Dictionary

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Fifth ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2012.

An excellent dictionary of American English that traces words back to their Indo-European roots (not all editions contain the appendix on IE roots). Its chief drawback is length, which is only about 70,000 entries. Online access is available here

American Dialect Society Email Discussion List (ADS-L)

American Dialect Society Email Discussion List (ADS-L)

ADS-L is a discussion list for members of the American Dialect Society and interested others. Members of the list include linguists, grammarians, lexicographers, writers, academics, and interested amateurs. The primary topics of conversation are the dialects of North American English and etymology.

American Speech

American Speech. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press for the American Dialect Society, 1925-.

Quarterly journal of the American Dialect Society.

hook or by crook

The phrase by hook or by crook means by any means, fair or foul. Its origin, however, is not known. Over the years it has accumulated a number of alleged etymologies, most of which can be readily dismissed as implausible, if not downright impossible. There is one, however, that seems more likely than the others. But before we start examining the different etymological possibilities, it would be a good idea to establish what the facts are and what evidence of the phrase’s early use is available.

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The origin of curmudgeon is not known for certain, although etymologist Anatoly Liberman provides a reasonable explanation. What we do know for certain is that the earliest known use of the word can be found in Richard Stanyhurst’s A Treatise Contayning a Playne and Perfect Description of Irelande, which appears in the 1577 edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles (the OED cites the second, 1587, edition, but it also appears in the earlier one). The passage in question describes the reasons why a certain Lady Elenor should take up with a suitor by the name of Odoneil who was “so butcherly a cuttbrote”:

the feare of his [her nephew’s] daunger mooued hir to annere to such a clownish Curmudgen

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Emoji are pictograms used in electronic communications. An emoji is a digital icon used to express an emotion or idea, a twenty-first century updating of the old ascii emoticons like the winking face, ;-), used to mark a joke or sarcasm. 

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right stuff

Today the phrase the right stuff is inextricably linked to test pilots and astronauts, thanks to Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book The Right Stuff and the 1983 Hollywood movie made from it about the early years of the U. S. space program. The right stuff is that ineffable quality that makes one right for a particular job, a combination of skill, determination, audacity, and intelligence, along with properly tempered ambition. But Wolfe was not the first to use the phrase in this sense; far from it.

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