Conferences Spring 2020

DSNA XXIII in Boulder

Orin Hargraves

The 2021 DSNA conference will be held at the University of Colorado, Boulder, or CU as the locals call it. Many of you know that I have worked there for the last several years in various capacities, none of which credentials me to host a conference at the institution. Happily, a colleague has agreed to be our faculty sponsor. So firstly, hats off to Laura Michaelis-Cummings, who is currently Chair of Linguistics at CU, a former student of Charles Fillmore at Berkeley where she did her PhD, and also the editor of the CUP journal Language and Cognition.

CU Boulder is the largest research university in Colorado with a total enrollment over 30,000. Boulder is located in northern Colorado, less than an hour from the capital Denver, and well served by public transportation links. Renowned for its location at the foot of the majestic Rocky Mountains, Boulder is also home to the only Chautauqua still in operation west of the Mississippi. It is the closest metropolitan area to Rocky Mountain National Park, the third most visited national park. Federal agencies NCAR, NIST, and NOAA all have labs in Boulder. The city is a destination for climbers, astrophysicists, geologists, sightseers, foodies, and  now: lexicographers!

The conference will take place June 2-5, 2021. It is in the early planning stages now but it’s never too early to put forth your fantastic ideas about how to make the conference a success, nor too early to pledge dollops of sponsorship cash to make the conference more enjoyable for everyone. This will be a “standalone” DSNA conference, not coincident with SHEL, which was our partner in 2019 (Indiana) and 2015 (Vancouver).

We have not yet teamed with a conference hotel but we have designated a likely banquet venue and have also secured space for our use at the University Memorial Center (UMC), a centrally located campus building that houses the bookstore, a food court, a ballroom, and numerous offices and meeting rooms. There will be dormitory accommodation available for those who want it, and we do encourage this because there are contractual minimums that we must pay for, whether people are sleeping in the rooms or not.

The conference committee is made up of DSNA president Elizabeth Knowles, DSNA executive secretary Kory Stamper, Dictionaries editor and president-elect Ed Finegan, DSNA member Lindsay Rose Russell (she’s from Boulder!) and myself. Please feel free to contact any of us. We are especially interested in hearing from members who have ideas for symposia, workshops, and panels to be offered during or immediately before the conference.

OTHER CONFERENCES

“Dictionary Articles and Corpora – a Research Laboratory for Linguistic Diversity” (Workshop at DGfS 2020)
4–6 Mar-2020, Location: Hamburg, Germany
Web Site: https://www.zfs.uni-hamburg.de/dgfs2020/dgfs2020.html

ICCLL 2020,  International Conference on Corpus Linguistics and Lexicology
March 19-20, 2020, Prague, Czechia
https://waset.org/corpus-linguistics-and-lexicology-conference-in-march-2020-in-prague

ICLLDP 2020,  International Conference on Linguistics, Lexicography and Discourse Prosody
March 26-27, 2020, Madrid, Spain
https://waset.org/linguistics-lexicography-and-discourse-prosody-conference-in-march-2020-in-madrid

ICLSLDP 2020,  International Conference on Language Sciences, Lexicography and Discourse Prosody
March 26-27, 2020, Madrid, Spain
https://waset.org/language-sciences-lexicography-and-discourse-prosody-conference-in-march-2020-in-madrid

ICLDP 2020,  International Conference on Lexicography and Discourse Prosody
April 9-10, 2020, Venice, Italy
https://waset.org/lexicography-and-discourse-prosody-conference-in-april-2020-in-venice

ICLSLDP 2020,  International Conference on Language Sciences, Lexicology and Discourse Prosody
May 14-15, 2020, Paris, France
https://waset.org/language-sciences-lexicology-and-discourse-prosody-conference-in-may-2020-in-paris

ICLSP 2020,  International Conference on Lexicology and Discourse Prosody
May 14-15, Amsterdam, Netherlands
https://waset.org/lexicology-and-discourse-prosody-conference-in-may-2020-in-amsterdam

ICLLDP 2020,  International Conference on Linguistics, Lexicology and Discourse Prosody
May 21-22, 2020, Vancouver, Canada
https://waset.org/linguistics-lexicology-and-discourse-prosody-conference-in-may-2020-in-vancouver

ICLLSP 2020,  International Conference on Lexicology, Lexicography and Semantic Prosody
May 21-22, Vancouver, Canada
https://waset.org/lexicology-lexicography-and-semantic-prosody-conference-in-may-2020-in-vancouver

ICLVLL 2020,  International Conference on Language Variation, Lexicology and Linguistics
May 21-22, 2020, Vancouver, Canada
https://waset.org/language-variation-lexicology-and-linguistics-conference-in-may-2020-in-vancouver

ASIALEX 2020
Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 16-18 June, 2020
Asialex 2020

ICHLL11, 11th International Conference for Historical Lexicography and Lexicology
June 17-19, 2020, Universidad de la Rioja, Logroño, Spain
https://www.nerthusproject.com/events

EURALEX 19th Conference:  “Lexicography for Inclusion”
8-12 September 2020, AlexandroupoliisGreece, Democritus University of Thrace
https://euralex2020.gr/

ICLSP 2020,  Intenational Conference on Lexicology and Semantic Prosody
Oct. 5-6, 2020, Tokyo, Japan
https://waset.org/lexicology-and-semantic-prosody-conference-in-october-2020-in-tokyo

ICEGLL 2020 International Conference on English Grammar, Lexicography, and Linguistics
Oct. 22-23, 2020, London U.K.
https://waset.org/english-grammar-lexicography-and-linguistics-conference-in-october-2020-in-london

ICLSCBL 2020, International Conference on Language Sciences and Corpus Based Lexicology
Oct. 22-23, 2020, London U.K.
https://waset.org/language-sciences-and-corpus-based-lexicology-conference-in-october-2020-in-london

Publishing Information Spring 2020

The DSNA Newsletter is usually published twice a year, in the spring, March 1, and fall, September 1. 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. 1 (2020)

Cumulative issue #89

Quotations: Elizabeth Knowles Spring 2020

“Sleepe after Toyle”

Elizabeth Knowles

Lexicographers are never quite off duty. Even when pursuing some completely different avocation, you may be struck by a word, phrase, or (especially in my case) quotation, whose usage provokes enquiry. My most recent experience of this came when I was walking in South Oxfordshire, exploring the footpaths between the town of Wallingford and the village of Cholsey—my particular object being to visit the church of St Mary’s, Cholsey.

Both Wallingford and Cholsey were originally in the county of Berkshire, and Nikolaus Pevsner’s Berkshire volume (1966) in his ‘Buildings of England’ series describes St Mary’s Cholsey as “Quite a major church. Cruciform, of flint and stone, and essentially Norman, with a chancel lengthened in the C13 [thirteenth century].” As well as its many intrinsic interests as a building, the churchyard surrounding it is also where the crime writer Agatha Christie is buried (she and her second husband, the archaeologist Max Mallowan, lived at Winterbrook House on the outskirts of Wallingford). I went over to look at the very handsome headstone that commemorates them both, and unexpectedly encountered the quotation which is the subject of this piece. The inscription to her reads in full:

In Memoriam
Agatha Mary Clarissa Mallowan DBE
Agatha Christie Author & Playwright
Born 15th Septr 1890 Died 12th Jany 1976

Below there are two lines of verse:

Sleepe after toyle, port after stormie seas
Ease after war death after life does greatly please

Most people, I think would find the sentiment expressed in this epitaph a sympathetic one, and presumably appropriate to someone who in a long life encountered some share of “stormie seas,” as well as working hard and consistently over many years. However, what interested me was the way in the lines have shed what was their original context.

They were unattributed, but fortunately I recognized them as coming from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene—specifically, as I discovered when I got home and looked them up, from Book I, Canto 9, line 40. More to the point, however, is the context in which they are originally voiced. They are taken from the longer address in which Despair attempts to persuade the Red Cross Knight to commit suicide, a fate from which he is only rescued by the intervention of Una, recalling him to himself (“Fie, fie, faint harted knight” is only the beginning of an energetic address). What interests me now is the pursuit of the couplet as quotation, looking for evidence of the degree to which they can be found used in a neutral context, with no associated meaning other than what the words suggest. An obvious starting point has been to check what dictionaries of quotations can offer. The lines appear in most of the major collections, although without information as to their original force—something which would in turn be likely to contribute to neutral use. However, two collections, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (18/e 2012), and the New Penguin Dictionary of Quotations (2006), provide the salient information that the couplet appears on the tombstone of the writer Joseph Conrad, in Canterbury. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography provides details. Conrad’s gravestone, the entry tells us carries as an inscription “the words which he had chosen as the epigraph for The Rover [his last novel, 1923]:

Sleepe after toyle, port after stormie seas
Ease after war death after life does greatly please

ODNB adds the comment, “These are the words uttered in Spenser’s Faerie Queene by ‘a man of hell, that cals himself Despaire’.” Though Conrad was buried with Catholic obsequies, the inscription is a reminder of the radical scepticism which gives so much power to his writings.”

The next stage, obviously, is to look for examples of usage evidence in past and present, and see to what degree awareness of the original context has been carried forward. Meanwhile, however, given that it seems likely that today direct experience of Spenser’s poem will be substantially limited to those working in the field of sixteenth-century literature, it also seems probable that these two epitaphs to well-known writers can only increase the likelihood of the lines being quoted in their literal sense, fully detached from any awareness of the dangerous appeal of Despair.

State of Lexicography: Orin Hargraves Spring 2020

Lexicographers’ Aid

Orin Hargraves

My prompt, from editor David Jost, is to write about how I assist other lexicographers. That’s a question that would probably be more accurately answered by those lexicographers, but I’ll take a stab at it, in the hope that my perception of the activity is roughly the same as theirs.

Leaving aside lexicographers I have taught or trained in a formal setting, it’s fair to say that my assistance to lexicographers (sometimes lexicographer-wannabes) has been random, unpredictable, equally educational and helpful for me, and almost never played out in person, thanks to the reach of the internet. The majority of folks I’ve helped out were “cold callers” —people who have contacted me out of the blue, having found me online or by referral. My interactions with them range from a single email exchange to years-long, lucrative contracts. The common theme has been their perception that I might know something of use to them, and my willingness—in all cases—to share what I know in the hope that it might be useful.

Readers of the newsletter will have seen the piece by Tim Stewart about his dictionary. His getting in touch with me is an example of a fellow harmless drudge, working in relative isolation, who felt a need to reach out to someone in the field. To my mind, the happiest result of this to date is Tim’s appearance at our last conference in Bloomington. A similar case happened several years ago when Peter Meltzer contacted me concerning his Thinker’s Thesaurus. At the time, he lived in a Philly suburb and I lived in Maryland; we agreed to meet halfway in between, which turned out to be a cheap and cheesy Chinese takeout in York, Pennsylvania. Peter and I got on like a house on fire and I was happy to look at, and provide some feedback about, his draft entries for the book. It’s now in its third edition, for which I was very honored to write the foreword. Peter attended a couple of DSNA conferences and I’m hopeful that I might someday lure him back.

In the early 2000s, I finished working on two separate years-long dictionary projects that had left me with the false impression that I had a seat on the gravy train of freelance lexicography that I could ride into my dotage. Work dried up suddenly and I faced the prospect of paying a mortgage without any income. The only solution was to cast about desperately. Ken Litkowski, a fellow harmless drudge, had posted a short notice about his work on prepositions to the DSNA email list. I noticed that he lived in Damascus, Maryland—less than an hour from me at the time—so I wrote to him, asking if there was anything I could do for him. It turned out that there was! We worked together for four years on the Preposition Project, in which my job was to fix an experienced lexicographer’s eye on preposition usages (thousands of them) and map them to a sense inventory, adding new senses where the inventory failed to supply the instantiated sense. Computational work on prepositions has now gone far beyond what Ken and I did, but it’s gratifying to see our work cited as the beginning of an ongoing wrestling match between the whimsical behavior of prepositions, and natural-language programmers who would impose sense and predictability on it.

A recurring theme in my advice to lexicographers and others in need of lexicographic perspectives is alerting them to resources that they didn’t know existed. This has occasionally saved them the trouble of reinventing the wheel. Many of the resources are proprietary and involve licensing or subscription agreements, but many are just out there on the internet and available for all to exploit. Without a doubt, the two useful things that newbies to our field don’t know about are WordNet and Sketch Engine. The Oxford Dictionary APIs, though not for persons of slender means, are also often exactly the resources that lexicographers and developers know they need, but did not know existed.

The lexicographers I have most enjoyed helping are those farthest removed from the decidedly not very diverse world of English lexicography. By virtue of their English proficiency, they have knocked at my door with their questions. An example is Abalfazl, a grad student in Iran, with whom I’ve been corresponding for the last few years. He wants to write a corpus-based English-Persian collocations dictionary. Despite our being worlds apart, we have developed an engaging online acquaintance around lexicographic matters that benefits us both.  He once helped me decipher an inscription, in Persian and Arabic, on an old samovar that has been collecting dust in my sister-in-law’s family for years. Last month he wrote to me with the exciting news that he has won a scholarship to study at Moscow State Linguistic University. I don’t know that I will ever have the opportunity to meet him but it is gratifying to me that I may have helped him in some small ways to embark on a brilliant lexicographical career.

  
  

History: Vincent P. McCarren and Eugene Green Spring 2020

The Medulla

This edition of the Stonyhurst manuscript of the Medulla Grammatice is an attempt at revealing a current of thinking, indeed, a first step in the direction of understanding a sub-literary movement which took place within England from beginning to end of the fifteenth century. This edition represents the earliest Latin-English glossary in the tradition entitled the Medulla Grammatice or Marrow of Grammar (Philology) ante 1425 A.D. The Medulla Grammatice comprises nineteen known manuscripts and four fragments. For a detailed description of the manuscripts of the Medulla Grammatice the reader should see appendix II of V.P. McCarren’s critical edition of the Bristol MS. DM1 in Traditio, 48, 1993, pp. 220-24.

Entries are in Latin with glosses or interpretations in Middle English. Not infrequently transliterated Greek appears with Latin and/or Middle English as glosses. At times Hebrew and French make their appearance. The interchange of these languages in this work reflects the culmination of a linguistic tradition that dates from the early centuries A.D., i.e., Jerome, the Old and New Testaments, Isidore, and Festus, through the Latin, Greek, and Old English glossaries of the 7th, 8th, and 9th centuries and on into the 12th- and 13th-century wordlists and glossaries of Johannes de Janua and Hugutio of Pisa, as well as bears witness to the remarkable dialectal phenomena which mirror the changes in the Middle English language throughout the area at the time. In brief, the tradition represents a collection of words and phrases reflecting virtually every aspect of theoretical and practical life, since its substance is derived from supralineal and marginal inserts made in copies of every conceivable type of literary transmission.

The principal features in glossography of this period are the lack of context and abundant disorder. A.S. Way, the nineteenth-century editor of the Promptorium Parvulorum sive Clericorum, London, 1865, pp. xxi-xxii, one of the three major glossaries produced in England during the fifteenth century, remarked in his introduction: “The MSS. of the Medulla are more numerous than those of the Promptorium. They vary in their contents in a remarkable degree; it might indeed seem that each transcriber made such modifications of the text as pleased him, or that he engrafted upon it the additional word and explanatory glosses which he found inserted by any previous hand.” Michael Lapidge supports this perception when he says: “Of all texts, glossaries are the most prone to scribal interference: to selective copying, interpolation, omission, and so on.”   [“The School of Theodore and Hadrian,” Anglo-Saxon England, 15, 1986, p 54.]

The Stonyhurst manuscript has been chosen for editing due to its unique combination of virtues, i.e., being of the earliest of the manuscripts (a1425), within the tradition of the Medulla Grammatice, and being complete, having some 16,000 entries within seventy-one folios. In all, the tradition encompasses approximately one-third of a million entries. In comparison to the material which constitutes the nineteen manuscripts and four fragments of the Medulla Grammatice, not to mention the enormous glossographical reserves worldwide, this edition of the Stonyhurst manuscript is little more than a scribal twitch. The Stonyhurst manuscript exemplifies the many challenges facing the editor of medieval glossaries, and it is hoped that this edition might provide a sense of the scope and significance of the glossographical tradition.

The project with all of its ancillaries has been under way since 1983 when David Jost and I thought that it would do well for me to pursue this edition. Publishing began in 2007 by the international journal A.L.M.A. (Archivum Latinitatis Medii Aevi); and in 2018 its copyright was transferred to the University of Michigan Press and General Library’s internet system, “Deep Blue” (all accomplished most agreeably).

It being a Latin-Middle English glossary, an advanced knowledge of these languages must be had for any type of success in editing within this tradition. Even so, one’s abilities will be challenged at almost every step (and Compostella is very far away). The need for a more than manageable grasp of Ancient Greek cannot be overestimated, because the scribe, it will be proven over and over again, does not have a grasp at all, and will continuously confuse the situation.

A list of items (entries and glosses) will reveal the unintentional perversity. Aside from mistaken transliterations there are examples of grammatical misuse and flagrant dyslexia. A puzzling practice is that of the scribe’s choice of a Greek genitive used instead of the nominative form as the “head” or “entry” word. For this see letter “A,” line 603: Allotropheta and note 104; also, “A,” line 379: Aden and note 73; also, cf. “A,” line 1364: Arna and note 286. Beyond this, you will find yourself transcending the grammatical and approaching the dyslexic, examples of which do not cease. Confer “A,” line 612: Alluces and note 106; “A,” line 752: Amechon and note 137; “B,” lines 1984-85: B[r]epho and B[r]ephotrophium and notes 148 and 149. See also “O,” line 10718 (subject to change upon printing): Osir, for double-reverse dyslexia. Also “S,” line 14080 (variable before printing): Sternaton, which is gibberish until the proper Greek word falls into place: στϵάτωνα. These are just a few of the bumps along the road. With as many of the best lexica you can manage, along with some supportive period manuscripts, problems like these will be grasped and solutions will be realized, more or less. When that moment comes you will know that you are truly part of the scholarly community. It is hoped, indeed, that this description of the work will help to draw more scholars into this demanding but rewarding enterprise.

Moving forward with modern technology and publishing practices, we have chosen to publish our edition of the Stonyhurst Medulla Grammatice digitally. This is in keeping with previous transcribers who moved from handwritten manuscripts to printed books as the technology of the printing press became standard. The Library of the University of Michigan has published our edition in the Deep Blue digital library (https:deepblue.lib.umich.edu) of academic and research work. The library is committed to providing long-term access to deposited content through professional data management and digital preservation. Our edition of the Stonyhurst manuscript currently includes the letters A through K and can be accessed without charge at http:/hdl.handle.net/2027.42/143140. The remaining letters will be added to the Deep Blue repository as they are completed.

V.P. McCarren, University of Michigan (ret.)

M.A. Ritter, University of Michigan

Toward a Comparative Lexicon of The Old English Boethius and Chaucer’s Boece

The Dictionary of Old English and Corpus (DoE/C) and The Middle English Dictionary and Compendium (MED) enable detailed, lexicological analysis of Boethius’ vital Consolatio, translated three times in Medieval England. Rich in citations, these two resources, together with Irvine and Godden’s The Old English Boethius and Oizumi’s Lexicon of the Boece, comprise tools for appreciating verbal continuity and change. As categories, however, verbal continuity and change involve several subdivisions applicable both to the Alfredian and Chaucerian Boethius and to the lexicons of Old and Middle English.

Although Boethius’ Old English translators and Chaucer hardly manifest consistent fidelity to the Consolatio’s Latin , the lexicons at their disposal provide guidance to patterns of continuity and change. As a whole, subdivisions of continuity concern varieties of forms, not all etymologically related, appearing at least once in like passages of the two translations. These varieties include function words and classes of content words, most of them subject to patterns of phonological and morphological change in the medieval centuries. As an illustration, the Alfredian C TEXT, METRE 14 and Chaucer’s Book III, Metrum 3, based on a passage in the Consolatio, offer a basis for comparison and contrast. I give the Old English first, then a translation, then the Middle English and a translation.

 Hwæt biꝺ Þæm welegan woruldgitsere                             
on his mode ꝺe bet, ϸeah he micel age
goldes 7 gimma 7 gooda gehwæs,
æhte unrim, 7 him mon erigen scyle
æghwylce dæg æcera ꝺusend,                          
ꝺeah Þes middengeard 7ϸis manna cyn
sy under sunnan suꝺ west 7 east
his anwalde eall underꝺieded                                          
ne mot he Þara hyrsta hionane lædan
of ꝺisse worulde wuhte ϸon mare
hordgestreona ꝺonne he hiꝺer brohte.

How is it any the better for the worldly miser
even though he may have a lot
of gold and gems and every good thing,
countless possessions, and every day
a thousand acres plowed for him,                            
though this world and the human kindred
under the sun, south, west, and east all
be subjected to his power?                                             
He cannot take hence any of his possessions,
anything more from this world than
he brought here.

Al were it so that a riche coveytous man
hadde a river or a goter fletynge al of gold, yit
sholde it nevere staunchen his covetise; and
thoughe he hadde his nekke charged with precious
stones of the Rede See, and thoughe he
do ere his feeldes plentevous with an hundred
oxen, nevere ne schal his bytynge bysynesse
forleeten hym whil he lyveth, ne the lyghte
richesses ne schal nat beren hum companye whan he is deed.

Although it were such that a rich, covetous man
had a river or a stream flowing full of gold, yet
it could never staunch his covetousness; and
though he had his neck weighted with precious
stones from the Red Sea, and though he
have his many fields plowed with a hundred
oxen, never shall his concern with burial
escape him while he lives nor shall transitory
riches bear him company him when he is dead.

Comparing the lexicons of the Old and Middle English versions requires the caveat that their composition differed radically in procedure, enough to limit severely commentary on continuity and change. Even so, correspondences found are sufficient to outline an initial approach to their lexical relations. The wording of the two meters prompt flexible patterns that count as continuity and change.

For example, although the Alfredian interrogative preceding a negative response differs structurally from Chaucer’s opening concessive clause and negative sequel, functional words in both meters suggest roughly similar continuities. Since the subordinator al (variant of ME although), like etymologically related ϸeah and though, introduces concessive clauses, the three form an inclusive, lexical continuity. (Al as a conjunction occurs in the thirteenth century.) Modal auxiliaries comprise a subset of verbs, yet those in the two meters differ in form if not altogether in function. The Old English erigen and Middle English ere ‘plow’ respectively take scyle and do as auxiliaries, functionally alike though different in form. If the functional likeness of these auxiliaries favors viewing them as a continuity, a gathering of further examples from the Old and Middle English corpora may lead to clarity. Despite these similarities in function, the modal auxiliaries in Alfred’s meter-–age, mot, scyle-–differ in variety from Chaucer’s schal and sholde. Is this difference accidental or due to a change in practice?  To step past speculation depends on statistical sampling in the Old and Middle English Boethian corpora. 

Oddly, continuity among content words in these two versions is almost accidental. Together with the already noted erigen–ere pairing, there are only goldes–gold and mon–man. Yet the change in vocabulary also admits of subcategorization. Obsolescence is evident from underꝺieded (not found in Middle English), gitsere to yitsere (13th c.), middangeard to myddenerd (1300), welegan to weli (1400), among others. Some of these words find replacement in Chaucer’s version; some do not: covetous man for gitsere; riche for welegan; myddenerd not at all. The Alfredian directional words–suꝺ, west, est–occur throughout Middle English, but not in Chaucer’s meter.  Looking backward, numerous words that Chaucer supplies have no counterparts in the Alfredian meter. Some, like Rede See, oxen, and feldes occur elsewhere in Old English. Like the category continuity, the category change, on the basis of two meters, admits of subdivisions, an initial finding open to much further sampling.

This brief study of lexicological contrast in the two translations already reveals some challenges to method and scope. Already, the proposed analysis, based on a classificatory scheme under the rubrics of continuity and change, encounters issues that may find clarity from broader sampling of the two translations. Further, such sampling will very likely reveal challenges not yet addressed. Even so, the availability of the online dictionaries, the recent edition of the Alfredian Boethius, and the full lexicon of Chaucer’s Boece support a fuller, extensive analysis. Such an analysis promises to yield results welcome to lexicography, semiotics, sociolinguistics, and to further understanding of Boethius’ influence on the Anglo-Saxon and post-Conquest cultures.
 

Eugene Green

Education: Connie Eble Spring 2020

 KIDS AND A DICTIONARY: AN OCCASIONAL ESSAY

Connie Eble

This is an occasional essay, that old-fashioned genre written for or about an occasion.  What prompted it was my giving several children copies of The Dictionary of Difficult Words, compiled and written by lexicographer and fellow-DSNA member Jane Solomon and illustrated by Louise Lockhart  (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2019).  I love this beautifully crafted word book, as did every grownup I showed it to, and I was eager to know if the children to whom I gave it would find it as engaging.  Because this was not conceived as a research project, no attempt was made to control for such factors as gender, race, or socio-economic status.  The children are white and are growing up in two-parent homes in which their parents are college graduates and actively support the education of their children.

Several weeks after I distributed the books, I arranged to interview three of the youngsters individually.  Dylan, age ten, lives in Carrboro, North Carolina, and is home-schooled. He also attends an outdoor-based educational program on a local nature preserve and has described it in the publication “Field Guide to Forest School” (2019).   Isabel, age  “nine-and-three-quarters” at the time of the interview, also lives in Carrboro and is in the fourth grade.  Parker, almost nine, lives in Thibodaux, Louisiana, and is in the third grade at a Catholic parish school.  None of the three had spent any time with the book since receiving it, but Dylan and Isabel dutifully delved into it in advance of the interview.  Parker’s dictionary, however, lay pristine on his bookshelf among the many books of his pre-computer-game days until he grudgingly took a few minutes away from his screen and controls to speak with me.

All three knew what a dictionary is but had had different experiences using one.  Dylan actually owns a pet dictionary and two children’s dictionaries.  He does not use electronic sources to look up words.  He championed the superiority of a print dictionary: “If you have a flashlight, you can use a dictionary when the power goes out.” Isabel has never dug out the hardback family dictionary that is propping up a piece of furniture in her home, but she has used her father’s old paperback Spanish/English dictionary for her Spanish homework and sometimes borrows his phone to use dictionary.com.  Parker claims never to have used a dictionary, but he recalls that his teacher did once—to look up some words for a science lesson.  According to Parker, she told the class that her dictionary was from the olden days before the internet. This generation of language learners appears to have no notion of the dictionary as the book that settles matters of right and wrong pertaining to words.

When asked what they do when they encounter a word they do not know, they all said that they either try to figure it out from the sentence or ask a teacher or a parent.   They do not ask their friends or talk about words with their friends.

As for The Dictionary of Difficult Words, Dylan and Isabel both enjoyed paging through it and reading entries that caught their attention.  Neither one attempted to read it straight through, nor did they read the welcoming pages or end note.  And they simply ignored the grammatical tags like adjective and noun.  Nevertheless, they both figured out how to sound out the pronunciation from the strange spellings within the brackets and that a cloud around a word means that it has a full-page illustration nearby.  

Although Dylan finds most of the words and illustrations interesting, his favorite is kraken ‘a legendary Norwegian sea monster’.  Almost equally cool is the entry and illustration for funambulist ‘a tightrope walker’, along with the extra information that “There are records of funambulists from ancient times.”  When asked to summarize his opinion of the dictionary, Dylan smiled broadly and said, “I like it, particularly quizzing my parents. Especially when they get it wrong.”

Isabel enjoyed finding words she knew already, listing, for example, aloof and bumbershoot and bugbear (which she knew from Harry Potter). The illustrations were the most alluring feature of the dictionary for her: “I especially liked the pictures, because they are funny and cartoony and also because they have lots of cats.”  Among her favorites are the illustrations for cryptozoology and doppelganger, and she had figured out that the Jane pictured for lexicographer was the author of the dictionary.  Isabel’s favorite word is ailurophile ‘someone who loves cats’.  While clearly playing with the –ophile part of ailurophile, she added, “I think I’m a bibliophile and a dogophile too.”

Parker acquiesced to talking about the dictionary only when his older brother, age fourteen, showed an interest in it.  When I asked Parker if he had learned any words from his electronic games, he responded immediately. “Fortnight.  That means fourteen days.  But the game [Fortnite] is spelled N-I-T-E.”  When I asked for other examples, he said with exasperation, “I don’t learn words from games. I learn strategy”  (a word and concept that I probably did not know consciously at age eight).  Nevertheless, he looked through the dictionary with me for about ten minutes. One of the words he liked was zilch, which was entirely unfamiliar to him, and he insisted on rhyming it with itch until his brother and I pointed out the phonetic transcription within the entry.  A few minutes later I concluded our interview by asking if he had learned anything from The Dictionary of Difficult Words.  With irony fully intended, he answered triumphantly, “I learned zilch.”  He added, though, that he will try the word on his friends. ”I’ll say ‘What does zilch mean?’ and they’ll have no clue.”

The only suggestion for improving The Dictionary of Difficult Words comes from Dylan’s mother, who happily participates in the STUMP MOM game as she drives Dylan to and from his various activities.  Many of the words, though fun and worth knowing, rarely appear in speech or in writing.  She thinks it would be useful to mark in some way which of these difficult words a child needs to learn to become a literate adult.

I too encountered many new words in this dictionary. As a result, I can name what I aspire to be in retirement–a deipnosophist ‘someone who is very good at having interesting conversations with others while sitting down for a meal.’ One of my dinner table topics with contemporaries will undoubtedly be their childhood memories of dictionaries and the challenges facing lexicographers who want to hook the current generation of children on words.

Collection: Linda C. Mitchell Spring 2020

The BL: A Scholar’s Paradise Found

Linda C. Mitchell

On January 3, 2020, I posted the following on Facebook: “Happy to be back at the British Library. Desk #300 was waiting for me like an old friend.” To my surprise, Susan Cogan (Utah State University) and several other scholars responded with “I love how so many of us have favorite desks.” Susan’s response prompted me to ask several scholars what makes being a reader at the British Library special. I received a variety of responses.

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Desks in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room. Photo by Linda C. Mitchell.

The most popular response from readers mentioned the abundance of riches at the British Library. Jack Lynch (Rutgers University) emphasized that “There’s no richer collection in the world than the British library—15 million books and manuscripts in every language you’ve ever heard of (and many you haven’t). What John Dryden said of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is true of the BL: ‘Here is God’s plenty!’” Nicholas Brownlees (University of Florence) had a similar response: “My stand-out memory at the new British Library is when for the first time in the Rare Books division I saw before me the hundreds of volumes making up the Thomason Tracts. The collection comprises the thousands of pamphlets and newsbooks collected by George Thomason during the explosive British revolutionary Civil War and Interregnum years of 1640-1660. Without this collector’s extraordinary foresight and dedication our knowledge of that momentous period in British history would have been severely incomplete.”

Other responders recalled working at the British Museum, complete with all the glitches, before it became the British Library. Medievalist Martin Camargo (University of Illinois Champaign, Urbana) recalls, “I did most of my intensive work on British Library manuscripts before the collection was moved to its present location at St Pancras, so my most vivid memories are of the Students’ Room at the British Museum, where I have spent many productive and enjoyable hours. What I miss about that space is its intimacy. One was more aware of the other users and more likely to interact with them than in the new Manuscripts Reading Room, where it is much easier to keep to oneself and so miss the chance to spot old friends or make new ones. On the other hand, I doubt that users of the luxurious new facilities have had to wait an extra day to consult a manuscript because the lock had to be repaired on the cabinet in which it was stored or try to shield a manuscript they were reading from the fine black ash drifting from the aging ventilation system above.” Marina Dossena’s (University of Bergamo) first memory of the British Library also dates from the time when it was still at the “centre of the British Museum, like the core of a planet: an impressive, and certainly daunting, shrine of literature and culture. All those important names who had read and written there, and now there I was, young little me peeking through the door. Since then, the British Library has changed almost beyond recognition, with its scarily fast escalators, the shop, the cafeteria and all the tokens of 21st-century user-friendliness. And yet, when the doors close behind you and the space is quiet again, the ghosts of manuscripts past still crowd around you and keep you company as you order yet another book from the mysterious vaults.”

The King’s Library (George III). Published with permission of the British Library.

Another group of responders likened their British Library experience to the excitement of being detectives and searching for that next clue. Lynch says, “There’s nothing like the thrill of discovery that comes from reading works that have lain untouched for decades, even centuries, all neatly catalogued and awaiting consultation. In reading a late eighteenth-century diary, I came across passages so compelling and so absurd that I burst out laughing in the manuscript reading room, earning dirty looks from the earnest medievalists around me. But that discovery was what made me resolve to start writing the book that has preoccupied me for the last fifteen years.”

I had a similar experience when I was working on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century letter-writing manuals in England. The model letters were used for letter-writing instruction, but I discovered they were also meant to frighten young ladies to keep strict moral behavior. The letters were so terrifying that I gasped aloud in horror at the tales of seduction and of sex trafficking. Another time I suspected I had come across some of the books Samuel Johnson borrowed and cut out words from to build his data base for his dictionary.

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The British Library. Photo by Linda C. Mitchell.

The British Library may be updated with technology, but many favorite things remain the same: the long chats over coffee or tea with fellow researchers in the cafe, the community of scholars working in the reading rooms, the forging of new friendships over common research goals, and the vast body of material welcoming scholars to explore.  As I finish my book on lexicography in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, I am already planning my next project at the British Library.

Published with permission of the British Library.

I close with Lynch’s advice: “Access to the British Library is easy, but first-timers should read the website carefully to know what paperwork is needed to get access to different parts of the collection.” The new visitor should also be familiar with rules that are strictly enforced in reading rooms. For more information, click on this link:  https://www.bl.uk/help/how-to-get-a-reader-pass.

David Vancil is now in charge of the section on Collections and has the following request.

David Jost has asked me to assume the role of correspondent for the COLLECTIONS section of the newsletter. I accepted, but I need your help.

Many members collect word books for research. Undoubtedly, many more members have worked recently in a public or academic special collection, perhaps receiving provided financial assistance.

I don’t know who’s doing what or why. I’m sure other members are in the same boat.

Please send me announcements, observations, or articles related to collections at d_vancil@hotmail.com or david.vancil@gmail.com.

You may also post on the DSNA Facebook page. I check it all the time. I’ll make sure your material gets included in the newsletter. 

Dictionary News: Joan Hall, DARE Spring 2020

DARE Wrap-up

Joan Hall

In early December, the last 238 boxes of documents recording the nearly sixty-year history of the Dictionary of American Regional English made their way to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives. (And those followed several hundred earlier boxes!) The closing of the DARE offices in Helen White Hall was necessitated by lack of funding.

Sorting through the correspondence, grant applications, progress reports, financial records, conference plans, computer programs, meeting minutes, etc., was both tedious and fascinating. Over my four years of cataloging, I discovered the details of early DARE history that I had only heard about previously; I was reminded of the disproportionate amount of Fred Cassidy’s and my time that had to be devoted to fund raising; and I appreciated anew the decades of labor and the dedication of the people who brought the project from fieldwork to a digital edition.

With respect to the fund raising, it was gratifying to see that, despite all the rejection letters, over the decades we managed to maintain a collaboration among federal agencies, private foundations, the UW-Madison, a few corporations, and thousands of individuals who simply loved language and wanted to see DARE succeed.

Reading some of the correspondence between Fred Cassidy and the other twentieth-century giants of language and lexicography was particularly fascinating. He had carefully preserved a letter from Otto Jespersen, to whom he had written for advice on his dissertation; he had framed a letter from Hans Kurath, who approved of his methods for starting the DARE fieldwork; and he kept voluminous folders of correspondence with colleagues such as Albert Marckwardt, Raven McDavid, Jim McMillan, Louise Pound, Allen Walker Read, and dozens more. What impressed me most about the Cassidy-Read file was that handwritten letters seemed to fly back and forth almost daily (and sometimes more than once a day.) While that’s the norm with email, I suspect that most of us would flinch at the thought of that kind of communication today!

The correspondence files also produced some surprises: In 1971, Fred wrote to all fifty state governors, trying to entice them to contribute funds to DARE by sharing some of the interesting words collected by fieldworkers in their states. For California he mentioned pick and pan man (a gold miner), balloon car (a forerunner of the San Francisco cable car), and stack pot (an oil-burning heater used in citrus groves); for Georgia he pointed to tabby (a building material made of oyster shells, sand, and water), saddle-bag house (a dogtrot), and hammock (solid land with trees in the Okefenokee Swamp); and for Alabama he offered rail runner (a fence lizard), cotton box (a high-sided flatboat), and bushwhack (to haul a boat along a stream by pulling on low-hanging branches). Although Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and George Wallace were minimally polite in their responses, they made it clear that they had other uses for their states’ money. (Only one state—Ohio—responded with a gift.)

More recently, Fred received letters from George H.W. Bush (thanking him for explaining the phrase who shot John) and Colin Powell (a fellow Jamaican, who appreciated receiving a copy of Fred’s book Jamaica Talk.) Some less cordial correspondence, testy on both sides, is in the folders for Reinhold Aman and Joey Dillard.

DARE staffers were sometimes dismayed that Fred felt obligated to answer every piece of mail he received, but looking at the carbon copies of his responses today, I realize that he provided a great service to biographers of any of the thousands of Fred’s correspondents, not to mention a potential historian of the DARE project.

The DARE offices are now empty, but there is still a vestige of lexicographical enterprise.

Following the release of the digital version of DARE in 2013 , George Goebel began preparing new and revised entries, particularly those in the A—C range, for which we had not had the benefit of any digital resources. He has uploaded these to the DARE website on a quarterly basis, and Harvard University Press has agreed to upload them to the digital DARE annually. Despite the lack of any funding, George continues to do this work as a volunteer. As of the end of January, 2020, he has uploaded nineteen Quarterly Updates. Thank you, George!