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HD: Are You Using the Wrong Dictionary? 
Posted: 06 June 2014 06:28 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Older isn’t better.

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Posted: 06 June 2014 07:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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An electromagnet works by causing a diversion of the field…

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Posted: 06 June 2014 11:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Dave Wilton - 06 June 2014 06:28 AM

Older isn’t better.

modern lexicographers simply know more and are better at their job than those in days past.

I think this is a matter of opinion and enters the debate on who are the better writers, composers, artists etc. The classicist has one opinion and the modernist has another and never the twain shall meet.

I refuse to believe that a Kory Stamper would be better at her job than a Sir James Murray or Samuel Johnson; these are just two that come to mind. I don’t want to dismiss Ms. Stamper’s expertise, or her knowledge in her field, but I don’t think her education, or knowledge in general, is as prodigious as the two gentlemen mentioned above.

The Noah Webster, the James Murray or Samuel Johnson slaving away by candlelight might get a few things wrong but the intellect of their minds is expressed in their work.

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Posted: 07 June 2014 04:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The comparison with artists is not apt. You can judge a dictionary by objective criteria (accuracy, coverage, extent of corpus, etc.), which is not true of art. You may express the opinion that earlier dictionaries exhibit an artistic sensitivity and stylistic flair in their definitions that is not seen today. I wouldn’t disagree. But that doesn’t make them better references.

And the point isn’t a comparison of individuals, but of the product they produce. The comparison isn’t between Johnson and Stamper, but between Johnson’s dictionary and those of Merriam-Webster today. There is no doubt that as a reference, Merriam-Webster’s current products are superior. They are based on a much more thorough review of the corpus with digital tools, the likes of which were simply inconceivable in Johnson’s day. Plus scholarship and methods have advanced and been honed in the intervening years.

Also, the idea of Johnson, much less Murray, slaving away alone by candlelight is hyperbole. Both had teams of people working for them. While Murray was its guiding light, the OED is definitely not a the product of a single individual. Murray is probably best compared to Francis Collins or Craig Venter, who while excellent biologists were not necessarily the most brilliant, but they had the organizational chops to not only manage huge and geographically diverse teams of people in a gargantuan research effort that was the Human Genome Project, but to invent many of the organizational methodology and techniques along the way. Johnson, who undoubtedly was one of the great minds of history, can lay a fairer claim to being the single author of his dictionary, but even he had amanuenses working for him. (Plus the original reference was to Noah Webster, not Murray or Johnson. I don’t know the degree to which Webster had help from assistants.)

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Posted: 07 June 2014 05:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I think this is a matter of opinion

No, it’s really not.  Lexicography has advanced pari passu with linguistics, and modern dictionaries are infinitely better than their predecessors at doing their actual job, which is not writing enjoyable bits of prose.  If you enjoy the musty pleasures of antiquated definitions, more power to you, but that has nothing to do with the purpose of dictionaries.

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Posted: 07 June 2014 08:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I fully agree with Dave and lh. I love Johnson’s great work, no man more, but would I reach for it to check an etymology? Of course I wouldn’t. I’d go to the OED, and the latest edition (ie online) of the OED. You’re comparing chalk with cheese, confusing art with science.

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Posted: 07 June 2014 11:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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No, it’s really not.  Lexicography has advanced pari passu with linguistics, and modern dictionaries are infinitely better than their predecessors at doing their actual job, which is not writing enjoyable bits of prose.  If you enjoy the musty pleasures of antiquated definitions, more power to you, but that has nothing to do with the purpose of dictionaries.

I won’t argue the point, because your expertise is superior to mine.

I was contending more with lexicographers of the past and their contribution to the craft of lexicography.  I would think their task far more arduous and contemplative without the assistance of advanced digital tools and computers.

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Posted: 07 June 2014 11:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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You’re comparing chalk with cheese, confusing art with science.

Not necessarily, because Practical lexicography is the art or a craft in compiling and editing dictionaries, opposed to Theoretical lexicography which delves more into the science of compiling dictionaries.

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Posted: 07 June 2014 11:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I won’t argue the point, because your expertise is superior to mine.

I’m not sure that’s a valid reason for not arguing a point......

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Posted: 08 June 2014 03:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I was contending more with lexicographers of the past and their contribution to the craft of lexicography.  I would think their task far more arduous and contemplative without the assistance of advanced digital tools and computers.

Work expands to use up available resources.

Writing a dictionary by oneself, even with amanuenses, is a truly epic task, and Dr. Johnson should be celebrated for his achievement. But I wouldn’t say that he worked harder than modern lexicographers. I don’t have the stats on hand for the number of works Johnson consulted in compiling his dictionary, but it numbers in the hundreds. Compare that with the tens of thousands that are used by the OED and other modern dictionaries.

And advanced digital tools allow the lexicographer more time to be contemplative because they automate the mechanical tasks that don’t require thinking, leaving the human more time for the tasks that do.

I would accept that Johnson and Murray made greater contributions to the craft of lexicography because they were early. They invented much of the craft itself. But it doesn’t follow that their dictionaries were better.

Not necessarily, because Practical lexicography is the art or a craft in compiling and editing dictionaries, opposed to Theoretical lexicography which delves more into the science of compiling dictionaries.

Different senses of art.

The art of lexicography is OED sense 3a:

A practical application of knowledge; (hence) something which can be achieved or understood by the employment of skill and knowledge; (in early use also) a body or system of rules serving to facilitate the carrying out of certain principles.

The art of writing a pleasing sentence is OED sense 7:

Any of various pursuits or occupations in which creative or imaginative skill is applied according to aesthetic principles (formerly often defined in terms of ‘taste’ (taste n.1 8)); (in pl. with the, sometimes personified) the various branches of creative activity, as painting, sculpture, music, literature, dance, drama, oratory, etc.

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Posted: 08 June 2014 08:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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What I can’t stand are these young’uns who write so well and seem so intelligent, as in the case of Mr. Somers.  Where do they come from? But here’s a question. Who in God’s name would pronounce example as if it were to be a first cousin to Iggy Pop?

example /igˈzampəl/, n. a thing characteristic of its kind or illustrating a general rule.

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Posted: 08 June 2014 08:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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It’s true that the style of older references is more engaging than the crisp, dry style favored today.

This seems the central point of the controversy, in that earlier dictionaries or reference works were intended to be read as if between cohorts and club members of the shared language. Shakespeare did not need a dictionary because he lived and worked among the several thousands of speakers who were the basis of the English language. Today we have billions of English speakers and writers who are looking for a clue to what words mean.

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Posted: 08 June 2014 07:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Iron Pyrite - 08 June 2014 08:42 AM

Shakespeare did not need a dictionary because he lived and worked among the several thousands of speakers who were the basis of the English language.

What a very odd thing to say, on several counts.

In Shakespeare’s time there were about four million people in England. There was a lot of regional variation of English within England, perhaps more than there is now. It is not the case that there were “several thousands of speakers who were the basis of the English language” in Shakespeare’s time.

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Posted: 08 June 2014 08:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Dave Wilton - 06 June 2014 06:28 AM

Older isn’t better.

The comparison isn’t between Johnson and Stamper, but between Johnson’s dictionary and those of Merriam-Webster today. There is no doubt that as a reference, Merriam-Webster’s current products are superior. They are based on a much more thorough review of the corpus with digital tools, the likes of which were simply inconceivable in Johnson’s day. Plus scholarship and methods have advanced and been honed in the intervening years.

I wasn’t referring specifically to Johnson’s dictionary, or to any older dictionary in particular. My contention was directed more at the statement in your previous post: “modern lexicographers simply know more and are better at their job than those in days past.”

They might know more because much more information has been attained in lexicography since Johnson’s dictionary of more than two hundred and fifty years. Furthermore, with the assistance of technology, as you said, “…they have more information and better tools to analyze the corpus of English.” And referring to modern lexicographers, “…comparing that image favorably with the modern teams of lexicographers using computerized tools and digital databases …” I wouldn’t think this qualifies as being better, but it certainly qualifies as being more advanced and perhaps offers a superior product.  Nevertheless, I don’t agree that modern lexicographers (intrinsically) know more or are better at their profession.

In 1900 Sir James Murray claimed: “lexicography has for the present reached its supreme development.”
His statement, albeit perhaps arrogant, seems fairly accurate even today.

Lexicographer Jonathon Green, referring to Murray’s claim, said in his book “Chasing the Sun”

“…Murray must be given at least the benefit of the doubt. The substance of academic English-Language dictionary making has indeed remained very much within the shadow of Murray’s achievement. Looking at the two major ongoing projects in American lexicography, the Dictionary of American Regional English and the Historical Dictionary of American Slang, one can see Murray’s legacy on every page. Such works have refined the original system, but it underpins every entry. The historical method, worked out in the Scriptorium and brought to fruition over forty years of publication, has yet to be effectively challenged. Nor need it be: the clarity, the intelligence, the sheer user-friendliness—at least to the academic or scholarly user—of Murray’s method is a worthy model. Only in one area can a major change be seen: in the arrival of the computer into the world of word gathering. The increasing availability of the corpus, a vast assemblage of material among which the lexicographer can browse at will, is making for far wider word lists and offering a far easier access to all the nuances and gradations of usage that must be set out. The corpus itself is less of a novelty. Once the lexicographers began including illustrative citations, it was necessary first to establish a plan of reading. Johnson for all his biases did just that; the Oxford lexicographers had such a list, established by Herbert Coleridge at the very outset of the Philological Society’s deliberations. Where the computer scores is in the potential all-inclusiveness of the corpora it holds. The omnium scibile of the Scholastics may have returned via the multigigabyte hard disk.”
.

Also, the idea of Johnson, much less Murray, slaving away alone by candlelight is hyperbole.
Johnson, who undoubtedly was one of the great minds of history, can lay a fairer claim to being the single author of his dictionary, but even he had amanuenses working for him. (Plus the original reference was to Noah Webster, not Murray or Johnson. I don’t know the degree to which Webster had help from assistants.)”

It seemed Webster had a single proofreader, recruited toward the end of his project. Apparently these assistants were secondary figures. He did not allow such helpers to influence his end product. Johnson on the other hand took on the more creative and arduous task of preparing the definitions and etymologies. He also selected the quotations that would provide the citations of usage.

I think this is a matter of opinion
No, it’s really not.  Lexicography has advanced pari passu with linguistics, and modern dictionaries are infinitely better than their predecessors at doing their actual job, which is not writing enjoyable bits of prose

After rereading a book I read a few years ago I came upon another bit of information that somewhat counters LH’s opinion.

According to lexicographer Jonathon Green the dictionaries of the eighteenth to early twentieth centuries, the era that predates the necessary turning over of conventional lexicography from the individual to the team, “…many dictionaries… were compiled by people with strong personalities, who produced highly idiosyncratic dictionaries…the idealists, the missionaries, those who used their dictionaries to scold, to preach, to mock, to fight not only ignorance but fatuity…” The paradox is that their dictionaries are those that are best remembered. Lexicographer Stuart Berg Flexner remarked, “Old dictionaries were named after their writers, whereas modern dictionaries are named after their publishers.” And Béjoint suggests, that many people, “regret the old days, when dictionaries were much worse, and also much better.

I apologize for the prolixity of my post.

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Posted: 08 June 2014 09:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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What a very odd thing to say, on several counts.

In Shakespeare’s time there were about four million people in England. There was a lot of regional variation of English within England, perhaps more than there is now. It is not the case that there were “several thousands of speakers who were the basis of the English language” in Shakespeare’s time.

Good point(s). I pondered that and wondered whether I should change my statement. My central argument was that Shakespeare didn’t need a dictionary. Secondarily, the number of people who made up the population of English speakers with whom Shakespeare was concerned may well have been much smaller than the total population of England. His paying audience were Londoners, primarily, and also people who were members of the courtly society, from what I understand in my limited knowledge. When Shakespeare put his sonnets out to be read by various people, for example, he had them printed and then distributed amongst his friends and acquaintances. They couldn’t have numbered more than a few hundred. So it may be generous to say that his fellow speakers of English numbered in the several thousands.

The regional variations in English in days of old are, to me an American, somewhat astonishing. I think, however, that Shakespeare’s English was so influential that it has become the standard of modern English. How many people spoke Shakespeare’s English circa 1600?

But, yes, I should have put my statement in context.

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Posted: 09 June 2014 03:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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In 1900 Sir James Murray claimed: “lexicography has for the present reached its supreme development.”

And Lord Kelvin is reputed to have said in 1900: “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now, All that remains is more and more precise measurement.”

The situations aren’t analogous, but I thought I’d throw that in there. With digital technologies, we may very well see another revolution in lexicography. While lexicographers have embraced digital corpora, the structure of dictionaries is essentially the same, designed for the printed page. I would guess that in a hundred years, dictionaries will be very different beasts than they are today, and people will look back with fondness at the quaint definitions and fixed structure of those produced in the early twenty-first century.

Indeed, Murray invented modern lexicography and all modern dictionaries bear his stamp, but that doesn’t mean that the specific dictionary entries he produced are still the best. Charles Darwin laid the foundations for modern biology, but very few biologists actually crack open On the Origin of Species and cite the data it presents in their papers. (And I would bet the majority of biologists have never even read it.) With Murray and modern lexicographers the relationship is even more distant than that of Darwin and biologists, as Murray’s great contribution was methodological, not substantive (although he did have a lot of substantive contributions too).

My central argument was that Shakespeare didn’t need a dictionary.

Shakespeare used a number of references, and scholars widely believe that a dictionary was among them. More specifically, many scholars believe that Shakespeare routinely consulted John Baret’s 1573 Alvearie, an Anglo-Latin dictionary. (Some people have found a copy that they claim is the one that Shakespeare actually used, although this claim is highly speculative.)

I think, however, that Shakespeare’s English was so influential that it has become the standard of modern English. How many people spoke Shakespeare’s English circa 1600?

Ummm, none. I think we can say with a high degree of confidence that Londoners of c. 1600 did not go about declaiming things in iambic pentameter. Shakespeare’s is a highly stylized use of English intended for the stage.

Now, if you mean did the London dialect form the core of standard modern English, the statement is true, but the beginnings of that go back to Chaucer’s day and would be true even if Willie had never lived. And standard written English got its start in the “Chancery English” of the fifteenth century. The population of London in Shakespeare’s day was a little more than 200,000, and about four million lived in all of England. In Shakespeare’s day, English was still very much a minor, regional language. Tucked away in a remote corner of northeastern Europe, not on any major trade routes, few people not born there ever learned to speak or read English. So that much is correct, but I’m not sure what relevance it has to the main points.

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