ELEXIS tools and services

17 ELEXIS partners are constantly developing and improving ELEXIS tools and services for lexicography.


We are constantly enriching our resources to enable smart research not only for lexicographers and researches in Natural Language Processing, but also for teachers and other professionals without formal training in lexicography. And what better way to start off a new school year than with newly developed resources?

Below, you can find a comprehensive overview of all open-access resources that are currently available. The newest ones are listed first, but you can find a quick list of all resources right here:

  • OneClick Dictionary
  • Clusty
  • Elexifier
  • VerbAtlas
  • SyntagNet
  • SketchEngine
  • Lexonomy
  • Elexifinder
  • Lexicographic newsfeed

New Editor of Dictionaries

The Executive Board of DSNA is delighted to announce that Lynne Murphy has been appointed as the next Editor of Dictionaries, to take over the role when Ed Finegan steps down next year. Lynne is an accomplished lexicologist and theoretical semanticist, the author of Semantic Relations and the Lexicon (Cambridge UP, 2003) and Lexical Meaning (Cambridge UP, 2010), as well as co-author of Key Terms in Semantics (Bloomsbury, 2010) and Antonyms in English (Cambridge, 2012). She is also author of the extremely popular The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship between American and British English (Penguin, 2018), written with support of a very competitive National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for public-facing scholarship. She is the Lynneguist behind the blog, Separated by a Common Language. She has taught at the University of the Witwatersrand, Baylor University, and the University of Sussex, and has been a member of DSNA at least since 1992, when she was studying for her Ph.D. with Ladislav Zgusta at the University of Illinois.

Lynne’s scholarly sophistication and command of style, her experience with writing and editing in various registers, her deep roots in the Society and American lexicography, and her access to the United Kingdom and Europe, all contribute to making her an exceptionally well-qualified choice to take over Dictionaries. I know you will join me in welcoming her appointment in the warmest terms.

Elizabeth Knowles

President, DSNA

2021 Conference Postponed

2021 Conference Postponed

With great regret, but having carefully considered the circumstances relating to the COVID pandemic, the Executive Board of DSNA has agreed to postpone the planned in-person 2021 biennial meeting. The Board has an unwavering commitment to holding an in-person meeting, with the focus already publicized, at a later date to be announced as soon as possible. We are also exploring the feasibility of holding an exciting one-day virtual meeting in June of 2021.

More details will follow, but it seemed right to convey the key information without delay.

Elizabeth Knowles
President, DSNA

Call for Papers 23 Biennial DSNA

Call for Papers

The 23rd Biennial Dictionary Society of North America Conference will be held at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in June 2021. Presentations on any aspect of lexicography and lexicology in any language are welcome. Those focused on aspects of lexicology and lexicography of the American West are particularly encouraged. The conference will feature a workshop and plenary panel on lexicography of indigenous North American languages.

All presenters must be members of the DSNA. To join or renew membership, click on the “Join Us!” link at the website dictionarysociety.com. The program will begin with presentations on the evening of Wednesday, June 2 and will run through Saturday afternoon, June 5.

Workshop proposals (including pedagogy sessions) should be between 800 and 1000 words, excluding references. Submit these to Orin Hargraves, the conference host, at orin.hargraves@colorado.edu.

Abstracts for presentations of 20 minutes, 10 minutes Q&A, are invited. Submission of abstracts (300-500 words) is via EasyAbs (http://linguistlist.org/easyabs/DSNA2021Boulder). Please do not put any self-identifying references in your abstract.

Workshop submission (to conference host) is open from 1 Sept 2020 to 1 Dec 2020.

Abstract submission for papers (via EasyAbs)  will take place in two rounds:

  • Round 1 is open from 1 Sept 2020 to 15 October 2020. Round 1 presenters will be notified by 16 Nov 2020 of their acceptance.
  • Round 2 is open from 1 Nov 2020 to 5 Jan 2021. Round 2 presenters will be notified by 15 Feb 2021 of their acceptance.

Conference Dates: Thursday, June 2 to Saturday, June 5, 2021

Location: the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA.

Information about the sponsor: The Dictionary Society of North America promotes the development, practice, and study of lexicography, and the use, compilation, curation, marketing, maintenance, and scholarly examination of dictionaries and related reference works. It provides forums for discussion and dissemination of information on all of these topics, including a peer-reviewed journal, a newsletter, a blog, and biennial meetings. The DSNA was formed in 1975 to bring together people interested in dictionary making, study, collection, and use. Our members include people working on dictionaries, academics who engage in research and writing about dictionaries, dictionary collectors, librarians, booksellers, translators, linguists, publishers, writers, collectors, journalists, and people with an avocational interest in dictionaries. The only requirement for membership is an expression of interest in language, in words, dictionaries and lexicography, or any combination of these.

Publishing Information Fall 2020

The DSNA Newsletter is usually published twice a year, in the spring and fall. The editor is David Jost. Associate Editor is Peter Chipman. Member news items can be sent to dsna.membernews@gmail.com. Other Newsletter correspondence, such as articles for publication, should be directed to the editor at dajebj@gmail.com.

Send correspondence re membership, etc. to

Kory Stamper, Executive Secretary, DSNA
PO Box 537
Collingswood, NJ 08108-0537

This issue:  Vol. 44 No. 2 (2020)

Cumulative issue #90

Quotations Elizabeth Knowles Fall 2020

Angel of the Pestilence

Elizabeth Knowles, April 2020

In the last week of January 2020, when I was exploring possible walks in the vicinity of the market town of Wantage, I noticed an unusual commemorative inscription on the (exterior) north wall of the chancel of the parish church of St Michael’s Wantage. (I had no idea, of course, that a couple of months later we would be one of many countries grappling with a twenty-first century version of a “pestilence.”) The inscription reads: “Between this Wall and the pathway were interred from Sept: 29th to Oct: 15th 1832 the bodies of sixteen persons, who with three others of this Town had died of the Asiatic Cholera, the ravages of which disease were mercifully terminated by Him, who alone could say to the Angel of the Pestilence—‘It is enough, stay now thine hand.’”  As the diligent editor of a dictionary of quotations, I immediately wondered about the source of the quotation, and how recognizable it would have been to the community for whom it was first put up. Ironically, by the time I was able to investigate it in detail my resources were somewhat limited, since lockdown in response to that modern pestilence of Coronavirus had closed the Bodleian and restricted my researches to what could be done from my desk at home, but I have at least been able to establish an outline picture. (I should perhaps say at the outset that my interest and investigation have been lexicographical in nature rather than theological.)

The OED entry for cholera (updated in March 2012) is helpful in providing a context for what happened in Wantage in 1832. It gives 1807 as the first recorded date of what is now the most common sense of the word, denoting an acute infectious disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae and frequently occurring in epidemics or pandemics. It provides the further information that it is endemic in parts of South Asia, and that the alternative term “Asiatic cholera” is still used. Cholera as defined here reached Western Europe in a pandemic of 1831, of which the outbreak in Wantage must clearly have been a part.

While it seemed likely that the source was biblical, and (given the date) from the Authorized Version, I did not recognize the words from the “Bible” entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Research at home confirmed that they did not appear in ODQ; nor could I find them referenced in other collections. It took further work online to trace them to 2 Samuel 24:15-16, verses which recount a story of divine punishment enacted in the form of “a pestilence upon Israel” in the days of king David. Initially, seventy thousand died “from Dan even to Beer-sheba.” However, when Jerusalem itself was threatened, there was a change. In the words of the Authorized Version, “The Lord … said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand.”  As a churchgoing Anglican, I am reasonably familiar with texts forming part of the Lectionary, but I had never come across these verses being read or preached on. I wondered therefore how recognizable they would have been when the epitaph was placed on the church wall, and undertook some further exploration.  I was interested both in the use of the unattributed quotation itself, and in the phrase “Angel of the Pestilence.”  

While I did not find significant general uses of the quotation from 2 Samuel, the Book of Common Prayer (1662) includes the text of a prayer for use “In the time of any common Plague or Sickness.” This refers directly to the “plague of Pestilence” which killed “threescore and ten thousand” in the time of David, and clearly alludes to the story in 2 Samuel 24:15-16. It is highly likely to have been used in in churches during the cholera outbreak of the 1830s, and would thus have ensured familiarity with the relevant biblical passage.

 “Angel of the Pestilence” as a phrase does appear to have been used in the context of 1832. It occurs in 1833 as the title of a poem by “J. W.”, appearing in The Aurora Borealis: a literary annual, edited by “Members of the Society of Friends”, and published in Newcastle upon Tyne and London. “The Angel of the Pestilence” in this collection is an eight-page dramatic poem in which the angel personifies the deadly infection spreading across the world. The phrase appears again two years later in the title of a prose reflection on “the Angel of the Pestilence”  as “the instrument of inflicting that disorder which hath lately visited the nations, and smitten its millions” (“The Angel of the Pestilence” in John Cox (ed.) The Friend of Sinners, 1835).  I take this to refer to the cholera pandemic.

From the admittedly rather limited resources I can currently look at, it does not look as though “Angel of the Pestilence” developed any very substantial use, other than in the particular context of the 1830s. There was of course already an established rival of which it is presumably a more specialized variant. OED dates the more familiar “angel of death” from the mid sixteenth century, and Byron’s 1815 poem The Destruction of Sennacherib provides a high-profile example from the early nineteenth century of a similarly fatal angelic visitor, in the couplet “For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, /And breathed on the face of the foe as he passed.” (Lines which, of course, are likely to be found across a whole range of dictionaries of quotations.) It may well be that “Angel of the Pestilence” it is too specific to have the general utility that marks the linguistically successful quotation or phrase. When John Bright, Liberal politician and reformer, spoke in the House of Commons in February 1855 describing the impact on British households of losses in the Crimea, the more general phrase gave his words the necessary impact: “The angel of death has been abroad throughout the land; you may almost hear the beating of his wings.” A personification which limited the agency through which the angel exerted power would not have served him. Added to that, as time goes on, “pestilence” to a degree loses some range of usage, and acquires a more archaic flavour—although to the inhabitants of Wantage in 1832, faced with a terrifying new disease, it was presumably a vivid and immediate image. In terms of quotations, I find the Wantage epitaph a striking example of the way in which local circumstances may mean that in a certain time and place, a quotation that might more widely be considered obscure can be very well known.

State of Lexicography Orin Hargraves Fall 2020

The World English Dictionary that the World Didn’t Need

Orin Hargraves

Twenty years ago, the Society’s journal Dictionaries (No. 21) published a long and detailed review of the Encarta World English Dictionary (EWED) by Sidney Landau: a DSNA fellow, former Society president, and perhaps the most highly respected name in American lexicography for his widely read Dictionaries: the Art and Craft of Lexicography. In his 13-page review, Sidney takes apart and discards nearly every promotional claim made for the dictionary and then analyzes it carefully in comparison to its market peers, finding it wanting in nearly every respect.

I was one of the “more than 250 lexicographers from 10 countries” (a promotional claim) that worked on EWED over the three or so years when it went from flawed vision to published book. Now, 20 years after the fact, is a good time to reflect on EWED’s stunted career. When it was published, EWED was put forward as “a publishing event that will set the standard for all future dictionaries.” Its publisher (Bloomsbury, a then fairly young UK publisher) and financial backers (Microsoft) envisioned for it an eminent place on the reference bookshelf beside the other respected English dictionaries of the day.

Today, you can buy remaindered copies of EWED (updated only once, in 2004) for less than a fiver and you will probably have to search very deep in the stacks to find it in any library. What went wrong? I’ve reconstructed my involvement with EWED  from diary entries over the years I worked on it and added a few reflections at the end.

The story begins in London, which I was about to quit, having lived there for most of the ten previous years. During that time I had established a meagre livelihood as a freelance lexicographer, having worked on various projects for Longman and Cambridge.

20 March 1996: I had a meeting with Kathy Rooney [publisher at Bloomsbury] this afternoon. I signed a confidentiality agreement so restrictive that I probably run the risk of my heirs being sued by writing about the subject of our talk here – but anyway it emerges there is an all new, from scratch native speaker dictionary in the works and I might have the opp’ty to play a role in its formation – the next few weeks should tell.

Our continuing talks were fruitful, and I soon returned to the States. I began work compiling the headword list for letter A and also recruiting other freelancers to work on the project, for a bounty of £50 per head. My impression at this point was that money was no object for whatever needed to be done to move the dictionary forward.

18 Oct 1996: Kathy Rooney [now editor-in-chief of EWED] and Faye Carney [executive editor], her right hand, visited last weekend. It was one of these classic fall days. We had lunch [in nearby Hanover, PA] in a big sunny room overlooking lawns. It went splendidly. They asked if I would work in London for 2-3 months next year and I said yes, not wanting to say no, and wanting to keep a door open. . . . At present I’m still rounding up lexicographers for them and editing a section that one of their English lexies compiled.

I continued to work on EWED for the next three months, defining. At the time I was living rent free but with no other income at a meditation retreat center, where I was the caretaker and cook; the income from Bloomsbury was useful, and the work agreeable. We worked on Windows-based software, homegrown at Bloomsbury just for EWED. The part of the screen reserved  for the definition was tiny and if you went over 25 words it beeped at you, irritatingly. This was to discourage prolix definitions.

On New Year’s Day, 1997, I wrote “I can picture one version of myself just plodding along here for the next 2 or 3 years, feeding at the Bloomsbury trough, arranging occasional diversions here and there – but this seems too stultifying.” Two weeks later I wrote “Bloomsbury requires cogitation which suddenly I have little patience for. At best I seem to be get in a couple of hours a day, much preferring to attend to all the things that want doing around here [at the meditation center].”

The opportunity arose for me to spend some months in Australia with my meditation teachers. Though I knew it would mean much less or no work on the dictionary, it was appealing to me at the time: the teachers were getting on in years and I knew I would never have another such opportunity. So I packed up and set off for Perth, Western Australia, pretty much leaving EWED behind and becoming completely absorbed into the busy life of the meditation center there. I didn’t return to the states until late April, and didn’t properly get back to work on EWED till June, where I find this entry in my diary.

6 June 1997: The week has passed quickly and appears in memory as a steady slog in the dictionary, broken up with minor diversions. This is of necessity. Bloomsbury is up in arms at my long idleness; industry is necessary to regain their high opinion. It’s been tedious but I’ve kept at it with good results.

Six weeks later, I’m still at it:

21 July 1997: My nose is almost continuously buried in the dictionary as I dutifully try to redeem myself with Bloomsbury. I think it’s working, and a side benefit has been the fairly hefty earnings – about $750 a week for the 15 or so hours I give it. The center suffers proportionally and is in a state . . .

In September I returned to London for the promised working on site at Bloomsbury, which I began after spending some time on a retreat with my teachers in Wiltshire.

28 Sept 1997: I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the very sudden transition from meditation retreat to Soho Square office and I spent the first 2 days in shock, waiting only for the day to end but then sleeping fitfully under the weight of stress. By week’s end, however, I seem to have made the adjustment and had mastered behaving, perhaps even feeling, like an ordinary working stiff. The office and its inhabitants are all agreeable, save for the “other American,” with whom I share a space: he’s a sad divorcé who swears too much and is disillusioned with life.

It may sound exotic to work in office overlooking Soho Square; it was not. Our workspace was a tiny converted storage closet, in which three adjacent work stations had been set up, with a narrow aisle behind them. One of my colleagues lay down in this aisle one day to rest; we complained because we were then unable to scoot our chairs back. But the work had to go on, and we all adapted.

11 Oct 1997: I am caught up in the demanding routine of work, which takes far more time than I ever thought it would. Though the weeks seem to pass quickly the days drag by; the work is so tedious and lacking in variety. I had hoped there might be a variety of things to do here, but the production schedule is such that there is nothing for anyone to do but work, work, work. I’m checking sections of the dictionary, giving it the penultimate read and allegedly getting it into publishable form. I am unused to dedicating hours of unbroken attention to such a task, and it is dreary.

8 Nov 1997: Work, to my surprise, has settled into an easily manageable routine. In the first weeks here I never imagined this would happen, it just seemed too unnatural to spend so many hours a day concentrating in front of a monitor and I was sure it could only be done by grim force, but now it comes easily. And suddenly only three weeks remain in my 10-week onsite commitment.

I took a short vacation on the continent following the time in London and returned to the States in December, continuing EWED work remotely as I had done before. It was not all roses but it was by then my longest running lexicography gig and still going strong.

22 Dec 1997: The dictionary rolls on in the background with unprecedented dullness. A long section I have now contains block, blood, blow, and blue – all major quagmires. And this is only B. After more months of this I’ll be barking, but oh-so-flush with cash.

14 Feb 1998: I’ve received via email a lengthy feedback report on one of the batches of work I edited months ago. It has had a galvanizing effect, the thrust of which is to work myself out of this lexicographical gig as soon as circumstances permit. It’s mostly an ego thing and comes down to this: I don’t conceive of myself as having lived these 44 years so I would have the opportunity to quietly read on my screen the pedantic criticism of this ___________, Bloomsbury’s ex-OUP “senior checker” who has clearly relished her role of documenting the minute failings in all that she sees. If I stay in this business, really all I have to look forward to is becoming her or becoming _________, well-intentioned and bright but charged with an impossible task of turning out the perfect dictionary in record time, using only mortals.

21 Feb 1998: I purr away at the dictionary, sometimes contentedly, sometimes exasperatedly. It is a monumental task of monotony but it pays so exceedingly well I couldn’t think of abandoning it—not now anyway.

11 May 1998: The weekdays follow a set pattern: after breakfast I work without respite on the dictionary till I finish the day’s quota, being at least 1/5 of the batch in hand. If I’m lucky I finish by 2:30.

24 Aug 1998: There is this raspberry seed in my wisdom tooth: Bloomsbury has drastically cut my pay (owing mostly to budget mismanagement, I think), and I’m suddenly earning $200 a week less than formerly. I’m trying every weapon in my arsenal to squeeze more dimes out of them, so far without success.

28 Aug 1998: Bloomsbury has relented half-way on their swingeing pay cut and restored some $ (and dignity) to my checks, but not before an awfully bad taste developed in my mouth about the whole affair.

6 September 1998: Little passes under my nose but the dictionary. I don’t actually mind doing it, I even enjoy it a good deal of the time, but I don’t like the notion that life is ever passing by as I do it. It requires so much of my time that there is none to reflect about what I’d rather be doing. I suppose I should be thankful.

7 Oct 1998: Bloomsbury has not restored me to the full glory of £19 an hour, which I feel that I so richly deserve, so I’m going to take on a tentative project from OUP for $30 an hour. If it’s enjoyable I might push over Bloomsb. altogether, though it’s probably prudent to keep a foot in both doors.

11 Nov 1998: Dictionary duty has finally stabilized and now won’t require anything but my time and attention for the next several months. OUP is a reasonable afternoon diversion for 2 or 3 hours, and the morning is still Bloomsbury. Kathy Rooney has finally relented and restored my pay to what it was before the August cut.

21 Jan 1999: The dictionary has arrived at the most stultifying stage, where one is asked to quickly review hundreds of entries, checking that they are technically complete and correct. It requires no creative effort, only mind-numbing attention to detail.

4 April 1999: Bloomsbury, at last, is in death throes and I expect the dictionary will be all finished on Friday.

The published dictionary appeared in July 1999 with much promotional fanfare. Sidney was not alone in being underwhelmed by its achievement; it received at best lukewarm reviews everywhere. There are many reasons for its failure but they can all be summarized under the heading of the main one: you can’t write a quality dictionary of English from scratch in three years using a workforce of internationally dispersed lexicographers with little training, varying ability, and wavering commitment.

Having built the database, Bloomsbury (and Microsoft, initially) were eager to recoup their investment, and very soon spun off a reduced version of EWED to compete with the “college” dictionaries. It was called Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary: The First Dictionary For The Internet Age. A serious miscalculation there was that the dictionary wasn’t published on the internet. This volume also did not succeed in making its way onto the reference shelf of many schools, libraries, or high school graduates.

A couple of years later, both EWED and the college dictionary were updated, now with “Webster’s” added to the titles of both. This didn’t work either and was, to my mind, the dictionary version of jumping the shark.

Today, the data from the EWED database has disappeared from public view and it isn’t even licensed on any of the dictionary aggregator sites—a shame, to my mind, because there are thousands of solid and original definitions that stand in good comparison to others and that merit study. No titles drawn from EWED data are in print. The reference shelf of contemporary dictionaries in book form no longer exists, Microsoft has mothballed the Encarta brand, and Bloomsbury, though no longer in the dictionary business, has achieved great international success in many other areas of publishing. Think Harry Potter, for example.

I benefited greatly from my association with EWED and I’m grateful for the experience and the income it provided. If the money and the market had been there, it could have been raised to a higher standard and I think it would have eventually established itself beside its more respected peers. But the money was withdrawn and the market collapsed.

I have lunch with Kathy and Faye whenever I’m in London; we reminisce nostalgically about the old days in Soho Square.

History Middle English Dictionary Staff Fall 2020

The Staff of the Middle English Dictionary: 1952 to completion

David Jost

“Those since 1952 are listed in the headnotes and endnotes to the individual published letters.” “Those” refers to the editors and production staff of the Middle English Dictionary. The quotation is from page iv of the Middle English Dictionary, Plan and Bibliography, Second Edition, by Robert E. Lewis, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2007. The purpose of this brief article is to use these headnotes and endnotes as well as fascicle covers to list the staff since 1952. I use these sources exclusively, so I do not capture such things as facts or name changes that occurred after these sources were published.

To do justice to the staff lists it would not do to simply list staff alphabetically. The list needs to be broken down into four periods to give a sense of how the work was done. These periods are: 1. Hans Kurath, 2. Sherman M. Kuhn a., 3. Kuhn b., 4. Robert E. Lewis.

1. Kurath A-F.  E was completely done by Kurath as Editor and Kuhn as Associate Editor.

F saw the addition of other staff, some of whom worked on many following letters:  Charles E. Palmer. Margaret S. Ogden, James W. Downer, Helen M. Snyder, Richard L. McKelvey, and Elizabeth S. Uhr.

E and F were done according to a new plan that was devised by Kurath. Once it was successful, letters done by a team preceding Kurath headed by Thomas A. Knott were reedited. These letters were A, B, C and L and parts of D and M {see MED A Preface}.

During the reediting of A through D under the direction of Kurath and Kuhn, Palmer, Ogden, Snyder, and McKelvey continued their work, and Helen W. Kao joined them (for all four letters) as did Alice A. Shannon (B-C) and William R. Van Riper (A-B), and for D only Lidie M. Howes, John Reidy, and Johannes Hedberg. The staff was assisted by the compositors Geraldine L. Preston (B), Jean P. Mueller (B-D), and Mary K. Wilde (C-D).

2. Kuhn a. G-L. Kuhn takes over the leadership in G (though Kurath is credited with some work in G and M). John Reidy is Associate Editor for G-L.

In Kuhn 1 we see again Palmer (G-L), Ogden (G-I), Snyder (G), McKelvey (G-L), Kao (G-L), Shannon (now Ann Shannon Paden–I), Howes (G-H).  New members of the staff during this time were Thomas J. Garbaty (G), James L. Rosier (G-H), Lazaros A. Varnas (H-K), Suksan Kim (H-J), Katherine Garvin (H), Donald B. Sands (H), Frances McSparran (I-L), Ardath M. Clark (I-K), and Bernard Van’t Hul (L).  Compositors were Mueller (G), Wilde (G-L—in I-L also editor), Nancy D. Allison (H-L), and John T. Lamendella (G).

 3. Kuhn b. M-Q. Kuhn remains as editor until P, but I run this era through Q because the events seem to me to fit this segmentation best.

Around the beginning of this period a grant from the Mellon Foundation helped bring in a new group of editors mostly with newly minted PhDs.

Several members of the staff of period 2 remained, Palmer through O, McKelvey, Shannon (now Ann), and Kao through Q.  Howes returned for M-Q on the production side, and Wilde was still compositor and editor in M. Reidy participated for part of M (Associate Editor) and then returned for O (Consulting Editor in O) through Q (Review Editor in Q). McSparran (M-N) and Van’t Hul (M-O) round out the staff that had worked on Kuhn 1. The new members of the staff as of M are Mary Jane Williams (M-Q—compositor in M and then editor), Roy R. Barkley (M-Q), Elaine Tuttle Hansen (M-P), David A. Jost (M-Q), Stephen F. Lappert (M-Q ), Lister M. Matheson (M-Q), Robert C. Rice (M-Q). A few editors joined the staff near the end of this period: Robert E. Lewis (P), Karis Crawford (O-Q), G.W.  Abernethy (Q), William C. Hale (Q), and Joseph P. Pickett (Q).

On the production side there are many new faces.   Walter C. Bak (M-O), Veidre Burdsall (M), Martha Fessler Krieg (M-P), Jennifer C. Hoff (P-Q), Eric Jager (P-Q), Vincent P. McCarren (P-Q), Rose A. Melikan (P-Q), Marilyn S. Miller (P-Q). Joyce M. Wolford (P-Q), Erika V. Cassill (P), Jerrell D. Clark (P), Clifford E. Douglas (P),  Richard T. Kidder (P),  Jon D. Pheils (P), Delores J. Kuzma (Q), Patricia V. Lehman (Q).

4. Robert E. Lewis is Editor-in-Chief from Q through Z. Kuhn has the title Editor Emeritus in Q to S1 (first volume of S).

A number of staff from earliest periods are still working, including McKelvey through R, Kao through Z, and Shannon through T. Reidy is Review Editor through S2.

From period 3 staff remain also with the last letter worked on following their name: Barkley (S1), Jost (S1), Lappert (S2), Matheson (S2), Rice (R), Crawford (R), Abernethy (V), Hale (S2), Pickett (T), and Williams through Z, becoming a Review Editor in S2. Miller also served through Z and became an editor in S1-S2, a Review Editor in T and also Programmer and Systems Analyst.

Many new faces worked on the final letters:

Robert N. Mory (S1-Z),  Paul Acker (S1-T),  Marsha L. Dutton (S1-T), Anita F. Handelman (S1-T), Michael J. Phillips (S1-T), Cynthia R. Bland (S1-S2), Elizabeth S. Girsch (S2-Z–she became Review Editor in U), James M. Girsch (S2-Z), Marshal S. Grant (S2-Z), Mona L. Logarbo (S2-Z),  Douglas A. Moffat (S2-Z), Paul F. Schaffner (S2-Z),  Mary E. Housum (S2-T—also as Mary Elizabeth Ellzey in T), Jeffrey L. Singman (T- Z), Karen E. Mura (T-U), David W. Ruddy (U-Z), Barbara P.H. Grant (T and V).

As for Production, Howes was Head through almost all the remaining work. McCarren continued and as of T had the title Research Investigator. Hoff, Lehman, Melikan, and Miller remained through R and Jager, Kuzma, and Wolford through S2.

The rest of the Production Staff members in this period were new. They were Olivia L. Bottum (Head of Production for T and also on staff for R-S1 and U-Z— as Olivia B. Lenz for S2), Katherine A. Beltinick (R-S1–as Katherine A. Shelton for S2-T), Louise W. Palazzola (S2-Z), Michael P. Adams (S1-S2), Mary B. Evich (S1-S2), James M. Sutton (S1-S2), Rina Kor (S2-T and W-Z), Patrick M. Florance (T-Z), Susannah J. Baker (S2-T),  David W. Ruddy (S2-T–also editor; see above), Ekaterina M. Vladimirsky (T-V), Elaine L. Halleck (T-U), William R. Hosticka (T-U), Christopher R. Scherer (U-Z),  Diane M. Johnson (V-Z), Anne M. Scott (S2), Kathleen M. Militzer (T), Laura E. Cunniff (W-Z), Karen I. Pritula (W-Z).

Note that the above lists are by no means a complete history of MED staff. For more information see page iv-vi of the Plan referenced at the beginning of this article. Also for dates of publication of the fascicules of the MED see pp. 29-30 of the Plan.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Robert Lewis, Paul Schaffner, Vincent McCarren, Olivia Bottum, and Michael Adams who looked at this staff list. Any errors that remain are mine alone.

Education Fall 2020

Using Dictionaries for Sociolinguistic Inquiry in the College Classroom

Katie Welch


University of North Texas at Dallas

In the 2014 TED Talk “What makes a word ‘real’?” Anne Curzan mentions that she requires that students teach her two new slang words each time her class meets, a practice that is often employed by U.S.-based linguistics professors eager to keep up with trends in American English. A few semesters later, having adopted this practice while teaching a course titled Language of Now, I stood before a group of first year college students who had enrolled in the course as a means of completing a core curriculum requirement and asked them to share some slang words with me.

On that particular day, one word that stood out to me was boojie [buʒi]. As was the case with most of the words shared, I was not familiar with this term. When I probed further, the student explained that she used it to mean ‘uppity’ or ‘acting fancier than you actually are’. Given that the definition closely matched a word I did know and that she pronounced it with a telltale [ʒ], I immediately responded, “Oh, so it’s like a clipping of bourgeois?” The student furrowed her eyebrows in confusion, and as I glanced around the room at the rest of the class, their facial expressions were also not communicating any awareness of what I was asking. I quickly explained why I believed the two words might be related and, sensing the class was rapidly losing interest, I moved on.  

Once I got back to my office, however, I did a quick search in the Oxford English Dictionary, which confirmed my suspicion that boojie (as well as its many alternate spellings such as bourgie and boujee) was indeed derived from the French borrowing bourgeois. Something that particularly caught my attention about the OED entry was that, in addition to the usage note that boojie was “slang, chiefly depreciative,” the definition indicated that it originated in the African American speech community. When I cross-checked with the Urban Dictionary, the many entries I found for boojie also identified it as an abbreviated form of bourgeois but seemed to indicate an expanded use outside of the Black community. Some entries confirmed its depreciative nature, but additional searching revealed that a 2016 hip hop song by the Migos titled Bad and Boujee had not only popularized the term but also reappropriated its use.

As I reflected on this etymology, I realized that boojie encompassed many principles that I wanted my students to learn in the Language of Now class:

  1. that many words in English are a result of language contact and borrowing,
  2. that new words are often derived from various word formation processes (such as clipping),
  3. that African American English is a common source of linguistic innovation, and
  4. that popularization of slang often changes the word’s original meaning.

I also recognized that the same process I had undertaken to discover the etymology of boojie – consulting a variety of dictionaries and word frequency search engines – was a skillset that I wanted my students to likewise possess. Inspired, I sat down and created a new assignment for our course.

At the heart of the assignment is an internet-based scavenger hunt in which students role play as if they were lexicographers tasked with identifying the origins of boojie. As the students read through the 4-page narrative, the story directs the reader toward internet resources of varying degrees of credibility from the Urban Dictionary to Google Trends to the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as other search engines and readings. In keeping with the scavenger hunt theme, each part of the assignment acts as a clue that unlocks new information that students must then evaluate as they try to piece their discoveries together into an integrated whole. For example, at one point in the narrative, students discover that Google NGram indicates that the earliest instance of boojie in print was in the 1920s. They are then directed to an article excerpt by Tom Dalzell from the Do You Speak American? website which discusses examples of slang words such as groovy and boss that seemed new at the time but were actually just recycled from previous generations. Dalzell’s article also explains that one of the common origins of slang words is in African American vernacular, and he lists numerous examples of how slang has been shaped “consistently and generously from the slang of the black American urban experience” as well as multiple examples of slang words that originated from 1920’s- and 30’s-era jazz musicians (Dalzell, 2019). At this point in the exercise, students have not yet learned that boojie originated in African American speech communities, so the article provides crucial background information for when they do ultimately read the OED entry and this fact is disclosed.

This style of pedagogy is often referred to as a “narrative learning environment” in which the structure of the narrative guides learners in their inquiry. Since this is most students’ first exposure to these dictionaries and search engines, the narrative serves to introduce them to critical background information about each resource but does so in a way that allows students to maintain their assumed roles as experienced lexicographers, as seen in the excerpt below.

As a linguist, you often use the Oxford English Dictionary to look up the etymology of words but had presumed that boojie would be too new to be in the dictionary. But, if it dates back to the 1920s, it just might be there, you think to yourself. You open another browser.

As you type in http://www.oed.com/, your heart starts beating faster as you wonder what you will find. Could this slang term that you randomly overheard at a party actually have “made it” into the OED? As you type boojie into the search bar and click “go”, your heart skips a beat. It’s there! Or, wait. Is it? The word at the top of the page is spelled bourgie, not boojie or boojee. Is this the same word?

The narrative guides the learner in highly practical ways, such as giving the URL needed for the next part of the hunt. Yet, the phrase “As a linguist, you often use the OED to . . .” keeps the learners positioned as experts while also giving necessary information about what purpose this dictionary serves. The narrative also guides the students’ thinking throughout the research process and provides a vehicle for them to make sense of the facts that they are gathering from each resource. Little clues such as “It’s there! Or, wait. Is it?” have a dual role in sense-making, the former communicating excitement at finding the entry in the OED and the latter highlighting the need to pay close attention to the entry because the bourgie spelling is different from previous results.

An important feature of this assignment is that while students are reading the narrative, they are also actively responding throughout. Every few paragraphs the students are instructed to pause their work and write information they have discovered. The responses grow in rigor and complexity throughout, with early tasks requiring that students simply report findings while later tasks ask the learners to triangulate information from multiple sources. The assignment concludes with the budding lexicographers composing a mock email to their boss in which they synthesize everything they have learned into a cohesive etymology. Determining boojie’s history requires that students grapple with sometimes-conflicting information. For example, Google NGram lists the earliest print appearance in the 1920s, while the OED cites a 1960s origin. And while the Urban Dictionary does accurately refer to the bourgeois connection, students learn through the assignment why this website may not be as reliable as other online dictionaries, thus necessitating the need to cross-reference.

This assignment has been quite successful, and students report how much they enjoy working through the narrative to solve the boojie mystery. Part of the assignment’s appeal is in the realization that “new” words sometimes have much lengthier and more storied pasts than we realize. Some students are particularly drawn to the sociolinguistic aspect of the African American community’s often-overlooked contributions to the English language. For first year college students who are used to a more prescriptive K12 curriculum, there is intrigue in the inclusion of the Urban Dictionary – a resource generally not sanctioned for academic use. From an instructor’s perspective, however, the beauty of this assignment lies in the fact that learners leave the class no longer dependent on their professor standing in front of them and making conjectures about the origins of new-to-me slang words. Instead, these budding lexicographers are now in possession of their own etymology toolkits and can confidently research any word they please.

Thanks to Connie Eble for taking charge of the Education Column.