Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles Online

The Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, or DCHP-2, is an extremely valuable resource for studying any “word, expression, or meaning which is native to Canada or which is distinctively characteristic of Canadian usage though not necessarily exclusive to Canada.” And it’s available online for free.

The second edition went live in March 2017 and is an update of the first, 1967 edition. The new edition not only includes words that have appeared since 1967, the editors have also cleaned up questionable entries for older words—for example, the DCHP-1 had separate entries for toque and tuque, which are now combined into one. As well, many entries have full color, photo illustrations and charts showing the term’s use across the provinces or through time.

So now you can look up poutine (1956), toonie (1993) and garburator (1948), and Kraft dinner (1937).

Users of the DCHP must be aware, however, that the dictionary only includes citations from Canadian sources. So when a term is older in other dialects, the older citations will not appear. This editorial choice, while a valid and justifiable one, means that users cannot rely on the DCHP alone, but must use it conjunction with more comprehensive sources like the OED. Still, this isn’t going to be a serious limitation to most users. And the DCHP-2, unfortunately, continues a poor web-design choice from the first online edition, where users must click on each citation to see the bibliographic data, which is annoying and time consuming. One cannot take in the provenance of all the citations at a glance, as one can with the OED.

Still, even with these limitations, it’s a valuable addition to the lexicographic resources available on the web.

The first edition remains available online for those that want to compare how entries have changed.

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The Oxford Comma and the Law

The Oxford comma was in the news recently when a federal court interpreted a Maine statute regarding overtime pay for dairy truck drivers. In the case of O’Connor, et al. v. Oakhurst Dairy, the lack of a comma, or so the news stories would have it, resulted in a victory for workers’ rights. The Oxford comma (serial comma) is the comma after the penultimate item in a list, as in me, myself, and I; the Oxford comma is the one after myself.

The problem with the news reporting on this case is that the ambiguity does not rest solely with the lack of a comma. And, more importantly, the decision of the circuit court did not rest on the punctuation but rather relied on other methods to interpret the statute in question.

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Old English Dictionaries

Peter Buchanan, who teaches at New Mexico Highlands University, has assembled an excellent introduction to the three major Old English dictionaries: John Clark Hall’s Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (a.k.a., Clark Hall), Joseph Bosworth and T. Northcote Toller’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (Bosworth Toller), and Toronto’s Dictionary of Old English (DOE). Buchanan’s discussion can be found on his blog, Phenomenal Anglo-Saxons. Buchanan’s description is framed as a reference for students at NMHU, but it’s useful for anyone who wants an introduction to the dictionaries.

Clark Hall contains brief entries and is chiefly useful as a quick reference for translators or readers. There is a version available online for free, although it’s an image scan and unwieldy to use. Bosworth Toller is comprehensive, but it’s nineteenth-century scholarship. It’s also available online for free with a good, searchable user interface. The DOE is the gold standard, but it’s a work in progress: only A–H has been published, and it’s a subscription service, although limited access is available on a trial basis. Buchanan’s page details how to get temporary access.

(Disclosure: Peter is a friend from my time at Toronto. Despite that dubious association, he’s an excellent scholar and all-around good egg.)

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A Dialect Coach Critiques Actors’ Accents

The topic of actors’ accents has arisen from time to time on our discussion boards. In this sixteen-minute film from Wired magazine dialect coach Erik Singer examines some accents from big Hollywood productions. Yes, Kevin Costner’s English accent in Robin Hood is really that bad, but I was surprised at some of the accents Singer considered good, such as Renée Zellweger’s accent in Bridget Jones’s Diary. But I’ll accept Singer’s judgment as this is what he does for a living.

I do have a few quibbles. I wish they had grouped the clips by regional accent, so we could, for example, hear all the Russian accents at once to make it easier to compare. And the medievalist in me bristles at evaluating Mel Gibson’s Scottish accent in Braveheart by the standard of modern-day Scottish as opposed to how they spoke in the thirteenth century. (Singer does discuss historical accents to great effect when examining Daniel Day Lewis’s performances.)

Sixteen minutes is a bit long for many, but this film is well worth the time.

Tip o’ the hat to Languagehat.

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The Last Punchcutter

A delightful, short film about a dying art…

And a short article on the film.

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