Teaching Lexicography: “Walking Dictionaries,” a University at Buffalo first-year seminar

Walter Hakala and Kerry Collins


In 2014, the University at Buffalo Faculty Senate voted to overhaul the university’s general education curriculum. Central to the proposed transformation of undergraduate education was the new requirement that all incoming and transfer students with less than 45 credits take what has come to be known as a “UB Seminar” during their first semester. At a university with nearly 20,000 undergraduate students, I was excited about being able to teach smaller groups of students in courses “designed around ‘big ideas’ and faculty passions”—my passion of course being for dictionaries. Shortly after the adoption of the proposed changes, I was selected for a two-year fellowship in our university’s Honors College. As fellows, we knew that we would be given the opportunity to teach Honors students who had been identified as holding extraordinary academic promise. What we did not realize, however, was that the faculty fellows in fall 2015 would be guinea pigs carrying out trial runs of the UB Seminars a full year before the official implementation of the new general education curriculum the following fall.

As a scholar of South Asian lexicography, I saw the UB Seminars as an opportunity to inflict my research in lexicography and other kinds of reference materials upon a (mostly unwitting) group of students. The course I developed, “Walking Dictionaries,” was intended to approach a big idea—how we as humans organize the abundance of information that surrounds us—through a variety of methods in an introductory survey. Here is the (admittedly prolix) course description:



Lexicography (‘writing about words’) fundamentally shapes the ways we think about and organize the world around us. From 4,500-year-old Sumerian clay tablets to the definitions that pop up on an iPad, our interactions with words are inseparable from technologies of reference. Some of these technologies are wired directly into our brains: many of the world’s oldest surviving “texts” circulated for hundreds of years before being committed to writing. By encoding words within verses of poetry, arranging them in “memory palaces,” and applying other mnemonic techniques, we can achieve fantastic feats of memory. Writing, however, makes it possible to see words in different ways. Through writing, we can see the way that words used to sound long ago, enabling etymological inquiries into their origins. With lists, words may be arranged and then rearranged to suit different purposes. New questions become possible: Why, for example, should the word ant come after aardvark, chicken before egg, or, for that matter, angel before God? And who would be willing to spend his or her life copying and recopying these lists of words? Writing requires time, concentration, and lots of paper—these are not always easy to come by. As technologies of print spread throughout the world, ordinary people for the first time could possess their own dictionaries, authors could compile them for potentially millions of users, and those users could consult them in an infinite variety of situations. What words should and should not be included in a dictionary? Who gets to decide what a word means? What kinds of communities emerge from these texts?

In this course, we will look at how words, objects, and ideas are defined and get equated across cultures, languages, and time. We will uncover the structures that make dictionaries and other genres of lexicography legible to users. We will question the social structures that underwrite a lexicographer’s authority. Mostly, though, we will get our hands dirty practicing different methods of lexicography. Readings will be on topics like cognition, memory, the history of writing, and biographies of those “harmless drudges” involved with compiling dictionaries and other lexicographical works. Students will have the choice of completing different  assignments on such topics as mnemonic techniques, vocabularies in verse, using Google Books to find early instances of terms, and designing the perfect dictionary entry. By reading, discussing, and experimenting with a wide range of genres, students will develop a broad familiarity with the history and practice of lexicography.


Many of my colleagues struggled to prepare assignments that worked backwards from the predefined set of learning outcomes that the curriculum committee had determined all first-year seminars would share. These included requirements that students, for example, “think critically using multiple modes of inquiry,” “analyze disciplinary content to identify contexts, learn fresh perspectives, and debate and discuss problems in the field,” and “understand and apply the methods of close reading, note taking, analysis, and synthesis.” To address the last learning outcome in particular, I tested out a new (for me) kind of assignment I call “running notes” for which I created a Google Drive folder shared by the entire class and populated the folder with separate Google Documents corresponding to each of the assigned readings. Students each week were asked to prepare a certain number of annotations on the assigned readings and respond using marginal comments to the annotations posted by at least two classmates. Students could pose questions, provide additional context on key figures, terms, concepts, or arguments mentioned in the readings, or argue with or against the materials they were reading. They would “tag” their contributions by adding their names in braces (e.g., {Walt}) following each annotation. My experience has shown that this sort of low-stakes writing assignment is a very effective means of eliciting student contributions both within and outside class, and I have subsequently incorporated this into my upper-level courses as well. (My colleague Sarah Ogilvie has since pointed out a much more elegant method of collaborative annotation system called Lacuna Stories that she helped to develop at Stanford University. Unfortunately, my university recently discontinued its support of the Drupal framework on which the Lacuna Stories is based.)

Another learning outcome that proved challenging to some instructors was the requirement that seminars help students “develop essential research and study skills such as time management.” Rather than replicating the standard “time management journal” that instructors were encouraged to incorporate into their courses, I had students prepare what I call “The Perfect Dictionary Entry.” They were asked to identify a term and locate as many dictionaries’ entries as they could in which that term appears. Using guidelines delineated by Sydney Landau, I instructed students to prepare their own dictionary entry in a way that they believe would make the most (or best) sense. In addition to drafting to the “perfect” entry, I asked students to explain what “method” they employed and justify their choices. Students then had to calculate the total time they invested in researching and drafting their entry and then estimate from that how long it would take to write dictionaries of various sizes. In our class discussions, we discussed what it might take for any of them individually to complete a dictionary comparable in scope to, say, those of Samuel Johnson or Noah Webster. How many years (or decades) would it take? How many hours would one be able to sleep? Was their chosen term more or less difficult to define than the “average” headword? How accurate could any estimate be? In the end, I hope they all came away with more sympathy for the delays that our lexicographer colleagues, both past and present, faced in completing their work. I flatter myself that they may also have gained a few new strategies for managing their own busy lives.

Another assignment that many students found especially fun required them to prepare a taxonomy of “a class of cultural artifacts” of personal interest to them. I introduced students to the official website of the Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group (, a group devoted to the “exciting study of occlupanology,” or bread bag clips, and encouraged them to use it as a model for their own curated collections. Their articulation of a methodology to justify their arrangement of such items as soccer cleats, superheroes, jeggings, pride flags, and shot glasses is uniformly excellent and always enlightening. To give a brief sampling, I will just mention here the taxonomy of brassieres prepared by Kayleigh Hamernik, currently a rising fourth-year Environmental Studies major and Asian Studies minor. Here is a sample description of one of the “specimens” she encountered in her research:


She used the assignment as an opportunity to analyze the ways in which women’s bodies are quite literally shaped—and even disciplined—by clothing. Even more impressive, however, is the method she employed for organizing the brassieres she had catalogued. She borrowed the concept of a dichotomous key from her training in biology and developed a creative solution to the problem of how best to categorize this kind of apparel. Her use of ironic distance to parody the objectivity we so valorize in scientific discourse was both hilarious and trenchant, as when she notes, “my taxonomy of bras is purely practical and does not dabble in frivolity.” Below is an excerpt of the relevant section of the methodology she prepared:


My initial dichotomous key can be reviewed below.

  1. Has Underwire …   go to 2

Lacks Underwire   …   go to 4

  1. Has straps … go to 3

Lacks straps   …   Sedlorum Abscondo

  1. Dorsal Closure … Classica Uncus

Ventral Closure    …   Transitus Frons

  1. Made predominantly of fabric … go to 7

Not made predominantly of fabric …   go to 5

  1. Edible Material … Seducten Melliculus

Non-edible Material   …   go to 6

  1. Full cup coverage … Dolor Durus

Partial cup coverage   …   Catena Jaceo

  1. Has clasp … go to 8

Has no clasp   …   go to 9

  1. Cups are lined with padding … Practicum Vetus

Cups are not lined with padding   …   Belliatus Subtilis

  1. Compressional spandex bodice … Artus Spissus

Loose/cinched bodice   …   Liber Pulvinus

She turned a potentially silly assignment into an opportunity to synthesize a broader critique of the commodification of women’s bodies. I saw this as evidence not just of sharp thinking but also of a mastery of multiple linguistic registers and the rhetoric of disparate disciplines.

I will only briefly outline the other assignments:

  • Exercise #1 – Dictionary Familiarization: You will receive two terms in class and make your selection of another. You will need to complete a worksheet and bring it to class for discussion. To what extent do the various dictionaries adapt or copy the work of earlier lexicographers? How do they innovate? What counts as plagiarism in lexicography?
  • Exercise #2 – Nisab: Prepare a vocabulary in verse that either equates terms from two different languages (English should be one of them) or provides synonyms for English terms. The vocabulary must be written using rhyming couplets, be at least 10 verses long, and maintain an equal number of syllables in line throughout. You may determine the microstructure (arrangement of terms in verses), macrostructure (arrangement of themes), and whether to limit your vocabulary to a particular field (e.g., medical terms, food terms, animal terms, etc.). You will be required to memorize and recite your entire nisab in class. Post your nisab to the UBlearns Discussion Board.
  • Exercise #3 – Taxonomy (see above)
  • Exercise #4 – New Words for New Things: Select an object, artifact, commodity, mineral, pathogen, plant, animal, etc. that has been introduced by one linguistic community into the material culture of another. Using lexicographic, archaeological, art historical, or other evidence, explore the ways in which this object comes to be semantically equated—whether through functional analogues or genetic homologues—with other, more familiar, objects and terms in the target culture. Post a 750-word response paper to the UBlearns Discussion Board.
  • Exercise #5 – The Perfect Dictionary Entry (see above)
  • Exercise #6 – Antedating: Identify a term or phrase in the Oxford English Dictionary. Using our library, Google Books, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, HathiTrust Digital Library, The New York Times Archive, Pennsylvania Gazette, 1728 – 1800, or Early English Books Online, try to antedate or otherwise complicate the OED’s How does language evolve over time and how effective are dictionaries in documenting these changes? Using the Lexicon Valley podcast’s Linguafile episodes as a model, prepare a 5-minute Screencast-o-Matic presentation and post a link to it on the UBlearns Discussion Board.
  • Exercise #7 – NGrams (due Friday December 2): Using the the Google Ngram site, compare the prevalence of two or more phrases over time (e.g., “The United States of America is” vs. “The United States of America are”; “hispanic” vs. “latino” vs. “chicano”). How do these changes in usage reflect or fail to reflect broader changes in society? What kinds of external evidence might explain the shape of certain Ngrams? Using the Lexicon Valley podcast’s Linguafile episodes as a model, prepare a 5-minute Screencast-o-Matic presentation and post it to the UBlearns Discussion Board.

I decided to use Tom McArthur’s classic Worlds of Reference: Lexicography, Learning, and Language from the Clay Tablet to the Computer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986) as our textbook. While the final chapters (on the future, circa 1986) are rather dated, I find the rest of the book holds up remarkably well. I supplemented Tom’s visionary work with primary and secondary source materials that I hoped would reflect some of the variety of genres and formats in which works of reference have appeared. These include excerpts from Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy and Frances Yates’s The Art of Memory (for our unit on vocabularies in verse); Jorge Luis Borges’s mind-bending short story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” and Luigi Serafini’s imaginative Codex Seraphinianus (thematic versus alphabetical arrangements); Dante’s De vulgari eloquentia and John Trevisa’s “Dialogue Between a Lord and a Clerk” (vernacularization and literacy); Alfred Crosby’s The Columbian Exchange and S. W. Fallon’s “Preface and Preliminary Dissertation” in his New Hindustani-English Dictionary (globalization and colonialism); essays by Benjamin Whorf and our DSNA colleague Mårten Söderblom Saarela (on the relation between language and cognition), and, of course, numerous episodes of the podcast Lexicon Valley. One of the perks of being an Honors College Fellow was my access to a shared pool of funds that I used to invite several DSNA colleagues for guest lectures. Professor Lisa Berglund, who teaches across town in the Department of English at Buffalo State College, gave a lecture entitled “‘a MOSt Horrible MOUse was MUDdy with the MULligrubs’ or Early American Readers Really Liked to Write in their Dictionaries.” Dr. Nathan Vedal, Assistant Professor of Chinese Literature at Washington University in St. Louis, taught our class how to use a Chinese dictionary. Dr. Arthur Dudney of Cambridge University in the United Kingdom spoke on “Pre-Modern Dictionaries and the Study of Culture.” Each provided valuable perspectives and, I hope, enjoyed the opportunity to present their research to an enthusiastic and knowledgeable undergraduate audience.

I have now taught this course on three separate occasions. I am used to teaching a wide variety of students, and our official curriculum touts these seminars as an opportunity for students “to explore interesting topics outside of [their] academic major.” It was nevertheless something of a challenge to answer what were for me unconventional and challenging questions from students who were mostly intending to pursue careers in applied and life sciences. As I went over the syllabus, one particularly sharp aerospace engineering student asked, “Are we allowed to give our own opinions in our papers?” I responded by saying, “Of course, so long as you support any opinions with evidence.” He followed up by demanding, “How is it valid for me to share only my opinion? If I am going to give opinions in my papers, wouldn’t I need to survey a large population of people for them to hold any weight?” I admit that I was bewildered. I am not used to fielding this sort of question from English majors. What weight does an individual’s opinion hold, and what in particular does this mean when interpreting events from the distant past? Rather than continuing immediately with my canned rehearsal of the contents of the course syllabus, I instead took this as an opportunity to discuss the differences in the kinds evidence that are commonly employed in various disciplines. Clearly, I was not planning to begin our semester with such fraught questions of how “the truth” is constructed and contested, but what followed was a free back-and-forth among the entire class, with students pushing back on my assumptions in a pattern that would prove productive for my own teaching and (hopefully) also their development as scholars.

Since my thoughts are necessarily limited to my own experiences, I asked my student, Ms. Kerry Collins, a rising third-year Linguistics and Psychology double major, to contribute some of her own thoughts on the course. Here is what she has shared:


Many students have no interest in words, or language, or the study of organizing either. But taking such a course is good for anyone who wants to improve their writing and their understanding of writers of all backgrounds.  I took this course, which was one of the many options for the required freshman seminar, because I was one of the rare students who had somewhat of an interest in these things I mentioned earlier (plus it sounded more interesting to me than did Greek mythology, bleh).

In this day and age with technology and political unrest, this class is very relevant.  Although a course on lexicography might not seem to directly relate with most students’ future occupations, it does however benefit students in many ways.  The most general way a course on dictionaries is useful to students is that it helps them decide which definitions most precisely describe new terms and phrases being created and old words which are taking on new meanings. How do everyday people and lexicographers define terms and phrases such as alternative facts, fake news, republican, racism, rape, woke, and freedom?  We can study how lexicographers of the past compiled definitions from various sources to see how we can create universal definitions for all these terms in 2018… and to predict what these words will mean in 2052.

One of the ways we studied this in “Walking Dictionaries” was using the Oxford English Dictionary to antedate words of our choice.  I chose to antedate the word titty.  (Yes, as in boobie– how many classes can you talk about this without being sent to the principal’s office?)  For this project, I searched on the Oxford English Dictionary as well as Google Ngrams for the earliest uses of variations of the word titty.  I was interested to find non-vulgar, yet topically relevant uses of the word that dated back to Old English.  Using the information I researched, I was able to find gradual changes in the use of the word that finally led to today’s meaning.  I did have to present my findings to the class, and I believe my peers and instructor really got a kick out of it.  I successfully taught the class about the history of the definition of a word, while keeping the class and instructor engaged and amused. The antedating project, for all words that students chose to present, was an effective way for us to see how definitions change over time and why they are what they are today.

Projects such as the antedating and the nisab (more or less a bilingual poem) sparked the part of me that was always interested (but didn’t know I was interested) in cross-cultural linguistics and understanding where words/meanings come from.  As a freshman, I came in undecided about what I wanted to major in.  After my first year was over, I looked back at the courses that made me excited to learn, and Walking Dictionaries was one of those classes.  Now I am majoring in linguistics and psychology, with the hopes to continue studying how different peoples and cultures’ thoughts cause or are affected by their language.

Although I found some of the readings to be sort of bland at times, the class discussions allowed us to verbally expand what we read on paper to grander ideas that spawned from what we learned throughout the semester.  It was neat to see all different kids with different majors having discussions, often heated, about nuances and applications of lexicography.  We went on a few tangents, talking about dialects and accents and personal knowledge of languages, culture, etc. that didn’t seem to be directly correlated to lexicography.  However, as a class that was meant to engage students in intellectual discussions, we successfully applied lexicography to all aspects of education and practicalities.


My primary goal in teaching the class was to think through with others how knowledge takes structure—from Webster’s dictionary to Roget’s thesaurus, from Simonides’s memory palace to Luigi Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus, from the Indian varna system to election ballots—and how this might affect other aspects of our lives. Was there ever a time when humans did not feel overwhelmed by information? What counts as literacy today? Who and what is an authority? With recent developments in politics, culture, and technology, questions like these seem to take on ever greater salience.


Memories of Missouri & Collectors

David Vancil

Just recently, I moved from a home in which I’d lived with my family for more than 22 years to a new house. The new home is somewhat smaller, so I decided to take a close look at my library, which sprawled over several rooms. Did I really want to keep books I hadn’t even looked at for a dozen years or more? I want to admit that word books didn’t enter into my decision making. As a curator of the Cordell Collection, I had never collected in this field beyond a few modern books to help me ferret out a meaning in another language.

I decided to donate many books to the public library, which conducts a monthly book sale and even posts a few books on and other sites. Given my experience working with other collectors, I realized I was doing my family a service, because I have known many collectors, including those collecting dictionaries and other word books, who had not done so. Almost invariably, their collections were broken up. Collectors of dictionaries are no different in this respect, but in another regard, they are very different. Few individuals in the public know anyone who is doing it. It is like a clandestine society. Thank goodness for the Dictionary Society of North America. It provides a conduit—a kind of information exchange—that allows them to find a haven where others, whether dictionary collectors or not, can and do provide support and acknowledge their contribution to the society and beyond.

Of course, it takes a special person to collect dictionaries and similar books.  They appeal to word lovers, individuals oriented to intellectual history, professional and historical lexicographers, and teachers of related subjects. And perhaps individuals who have a fascination with a literary figure such Samuel Johnson. I wonder how many thousands of people on the planet collect dictionaries. Indeed, I wonder if there are a thousand individuals who do it.

The first collectors of dictionaries I can recall meeting were at the DSNA meeting at The University of Missouri, Columbia, August 9-11, 1991. (I’d forgotten the date, but the recently added copies of older newsletters to the DSNA website made it easy enough to find out when the meeting took place.) At this meeting, I met Jerry Farrell, Tom Rodgers, and Gene Freeman. It was Jerry who introduced me around, and I think he introduced me to Allen Walker Read, whom he had himself just met.

Jerry Farrell

Jerry and Allen became friends, and Allen sent Jerry many keepsakes and publications over the years. Jerry, who lives in Indianapolis and was a math professor of Butler University, and I became friends, and more than once I gave him and others tours of the Cordell Collection. Jerry focused on slang and the like in his collection, although along the way he acquired many standard works. He has been interested in language as entertainment for as long as I have known him, and he and his wife continue to edit the online publication Word Ways, is hosted by Butler University. Jerry’s well-known for the ingenuity of several of his crossword puzzles, including some published in the New York Times. In addition, Jerry continues to organize a biennial celebration honoring the accomplishments of Martin Gardner. Jerry had about 3,500 books at one time in his collection, but he has whittled them down to 400 or so. Many of these remaining items are gifts he received from Allen Read.

Tom Rodgers and Jerry Farrell

Tom Rodgers had several collections, one including puzzles and games. His dictionary collection was informed by the book catalogs of the Cordell Collection. He tried to collect in the same area but concentrated on titles that were lacking. Tom was responsible for my undertaking Incunable Dictionaries, a work he said both collectors and researchers might make use of. He contributed funds to the project anonymously! In addition, the listing of books, which made a stab at assembling in one place a list of dictionaries published first during the infancy of printing along with citations for subsequent printings and editions into the modern age. There was talk of his donating books to Indiana State University and perhaps more to his alma mater, Emory University, but Mr. Rodgers was diagnosed with a virulent, fast-acting cancer and did not live long enough to carry out any plans of donation. His books were dispersed to the marketplace, some by way of auction and some through booksellers, including one with whom many members are familiar, Rob Rulon-Miller. An obituary can be found at

Gene Freeman I knew of because he had reluctantly sold some of his books to a very persuasive Warren Cordell. I never expected to meet him, but there he was at Missouri. Most of my talks with him at the 1991 meeting and afterwards made it clear that he was unhappy to have lost his books, which he viewed to be somewhat like offspring. I had to convince him that the books were actually being used by researchers. Even then, he expressed misgivings for parting with some of his most stellar holdings.

I hadn’t collected used or rare books for many years before coming to Indiana State University. I gave it up in graduate school—I was poor! But I was inspired by these three gentlemen at this 1991 conference and went off to a rare book shop near the university to make a purchase. For many years afterwards, I continued to collect books, although never dictionaries, as it’s seen as a potential conflict of interest for librarians to collect in areas which they curate. But the collecting bug is hard to resist once you are bitten. One finds another area to spend one’s cash.

Eventually, I stopped collecting, just as Jerry Farrell did. Collecting is a young man’s game in many ways. I found I didn’t have the time or concentration to keep tabs of or make much use of my collection. I had responsibilities that kept me enmeshed in other activities. I found myself envying collectors who were also active scholars. That’s how many of my books made it to an institution that could make use of them for profit at the very least.

I don’t regret having been a collector of favorite literary authors. Likewise, I particularly cherish my friendships with Tom, Jerry, and Gene. And it says a lot for the Dictionary Society of North America that book collectors of language books have a viable and active place in the organization.


In this section you will find an update on Globalex by Ed Finegan, an update of progress with the Middle English Dictionary by Paul Schaffner, and two notices of dictionary projects.

Update on Globalex

Ed Finegan

In the Spring 2017 issue of the DSNA Newsletter, Ilan Kernerman provided a thorough introduction to Globalex, including descriptions of the five continental associations and eLex, the groups that played an active part over the past couple of years in preparation for launching an official alliance or “global constellation for lexicography” as Globalex. As Ilan wrote at the time, “The core idea of Globalex is to work on lexicography in global contexts and bring together different segments that operate on their own – on regional, topical or any other level – to cooperate.” You can read his report at . As DSNA’s representative to the preparatory group that formed Globalex, I attended virtual meetings of the preparatory group each month and a couple of in-person meetings, including at eLex in Leiden in 2017 and the Euralex Congress in Ljubljana in July of this year (both cost-free to DSNA, it should be noted). At the Ljubljana meeting, the preparatory group concurred formally on a document called “Guidelines,” which constitutes the operating agreement of Globalex and has since been approved by the DSNA executive board and all the continental associations. Late in July, officers of the five continental associations signed the agreement, and you can view it below. The preparatory committee plans to disband itself on August 20, and the new “management committee” will have its first meeting after that. I have agreed to represent DSNA for the initial period, and in 2020 DSNA will designate a different representative.

Globalex signed by all CA officers

At the closing session of the Euralex Congress (with quite a few DSNA members in attendance), Ilan presented a brief overview of Globalex and its history to date, including mention of several workshops. Further information about the workshops and other Globalex activities can be found at . Discussions are underway for possible Globalex activities at DSNA’s biennial meeting in Bloomington next May.

Report of 20August 2018 Globalex meeting

On 20 August 2018, the six members of the Globalex management committee—Edward Finegan (DSNA), Ilan Kernerman (Asialex), Simon Krek (Elexis), Julia Miller (Australex), Dion Nkomo (Afrilex), Lars Trap Jensen (Euralex)—met via Skype.

Preparatory Committee.  Ed, Ilan, Simon, Julia, and Lars, as well as Iztok Kosem (eLex) and Danie Prinsloo (Afrilex), had met earlier (16:00-16:23) to dissolve the preparatory committee, thank everyone, and bid farewell to Iztok and Danie. The Globalex Guidelines drafted by the preparatory committee have been adopted and signed by all five continental associations.

Welcome. Ed, Ilan, Julia, and Lars have been appointed to continue representing their respective continental associations on the management committee. Dion replaces Danie as the Afrilex representative. Simon was invited to join the management committee as representative of Elexis and joined the discussion at 16:30 CEST.

Vision. Afrilex has submitted its vision for Globalex, in summary:

Questions: What is the way forward? Were the initial goals that were set out achieved? Are we where we want to be? Did we bring added value? Did we manage to link the lexes by sharing information, presentations; manage to establish a dynamic website as a hub of information; succeed in facilitating collaboration and knowledge sharing, promote research, development, exchange, dissemination, and usage of resources and solutions; enhance interoperability?

Aim: Develop website as hub and popular point of departure for retrieval of information, guidance to resources, knowledge sharing, links to publications and presentations, etc.

Aspiration: Alert members through mailing lists to fresh new developments on Globalex website, interesting information; each lex rep should supply information.

All other members are requested to present their Globalex vision.

Continental Associations. Euralex included an overview and update on Globalex by Ilan in its conference closing session in July; a video recording will be available on Globalex website. DSNA’s Fall Newsletter will include update on Globalex by Ed.

Asialex to hold 2019 conference at Istanbul University, Turkey.

Afrilex to hold 2019 conference in Namibia.

Australex plans to hold 2019 conference in Canberra and to build membership and awareness.

Globalex could help strengthen the continental associations by doing things the associations may not be able to do, such as offering materials, website, etc.

Work Procedures. The management committee will meet monthly (minimum requirement in the Guidelines is once a quarter) usually for one hour. Each representative is responsible for reporting on Globalex to his/her continental association regularly. Updates will be posted on the Globalex website from time to time as appropriate. Attempt to define the goals we want to achieve, with a timeline, by next meeting.

Management Committee Constitution. Ilan was appointed chair with Julia as vice-chair.

Website. Simon has built the Globalex website. Two other websites (of workshops at LREC 2016 and 2018) are connected to it (the latter lost its connection recently when the hosting changed).

New website manager needed. Costs for the maintenance work and adding materials to the repository will be covered by Elexis funds. Ilan will contact candidate from Elexis.

The website contains information on each continental association (an Elexis profile will be added), news about current events, the Globalex Guidelines, and a repository for publications, proceedings and presentations, etc.

New Members. We will consider what could be achieved by having representation by other groups – regional, local, and special topic, recognizing the possible complications of having a large management committee. It was decided to wait until the practical goals are defined.

Events. Ilan has been invited to organize a seminar for DSNA 2019 and suggested it be a Globalex one. This might be combined with another proposal to co-organize a DSNA workshop on new words and internet lexicography. It could include distant participation online. The papers could be circulated first, with the meeting held as a discussion of the papers. Another idea is to have a two-part workshop on bilingual dictionaries with a European/Asian language pair, part 1 next year at Asialex and part 2 at Euralex the following year. This could be expanded to other conferences that will take place next year to the wider topic of bilingual lexicography with language pairs from different families or continents. Alternatively (or in addition), Globalex could add to any conference by providing an extra meeting to attract people to attend, e.g. by having three 30-minute talks at a workshop that is integral to the larger meeting (not necessarily as pre/post-conference). This would also be a way to form symbolic ties between conferences.

We will continue to discuss this via email.

Next Meeting of the Management Committee. Thursday, 27 September 2018.

Globalex management committee report, September 2018

On 27 September 2018, the six members of the Globalex management committee—Edward Finegan, Ilan Kernerman, Simon Krek, Julia Miller, Dion Nkomo, Lars Trap-Jensen—met via Skype. Ilan chaired the meeting.

Note: To help ensure ready access to the workings of Globalex, the management committee agreed to publish a report of each management committee meeting on the Globalex website and make it available to the continental associations to broadcast as they wish.


The DSNA Newsletter has published an updated report on Globalex by Ed in the Fall 2018 issue:

The presentation Ilan made about Globalex at the Euralex 2018 closing session in Ljubljana in July is available at Now part of the entire closing session video, the presentation will be made accessible independently on the Globalex website.


A discussion about the website maintenance concluded that hosting Globalex’s URL on the same server as ELEXIS (by Jožef Stefan Institute in Ljubljana) would be the most efficient way to secure maintenance for the Globalex website, and Simon Krek from ELEXIS graciously agreed to arrange the transfer.

Globalex aims at having all publications regarding lexicography available on or via the website. ‘Lexicon’, a high quality print journal issued annually by the Iwasaki Linguistics Circle in Japan (focusing on ELT lexicography), would like to mount its articles on the Globalex website. Arrangements are being sought to digitize the existing issues for this purpose.


Two Globalex workshops have been planned. One will occur at DSNA (on the topic of neologism and lexicography), meeting in Bloomington, Indiana, in May 2019, and so far ten invitees have agreed to participate. The second idea is to organize joint workshops at Asialex and Euralex conferences, and the conveners have expressed interest. Afrilex (26-29 June 2019) has not finalised its program, but may have room for a Globalex session.

Conference organisers from our continental associations are encouraged to include Globalex workshops/seminars in their conference programs

Vision and Membership

The continental associations will be prompted for their views for Globalex activities. Afrilex has made suggestions. The topic of expanding Globalex membership was addressed briefly.

 Next Meeting

The next MC meeting is set for Thursday 8 November 2018.

Globalex management committee report, 8 November 2018

 On 8 November 2018, four members of the Globalex Management Committee (Ilan Kernerman, Julia Miller, Dion Nkomo, Lars Trap-Jensen) met via Skype. The other two members (Edward Finegan, Simon Krek) were unable to attend. Ilan chaired the meeting.


A discussion about the Globalex website established that the whole website will run on the servers of the Jožef Stefan Institute in Ljubljana. K Dictionaries have already transferred the site database, and a technical person is working on the site, which should be ready next week. The site will include the Globalex 2016 and 2018 workshop websites.

Someone from the ELEXIS team will promote the website from the end of November.

The editors of the annual Lexicon journal published by the Iwasaki Linguistics Circle in Japan have sent a complete set of copies of the journal since 1995, to be scanned and included on the Globalex website.

Globalex workshop at DSNA 2019

The workshop proceedings are due to be published online on the Globalex website, as well as in a journal special issue, but there are now too many papers for a single issue or journal. Instead, it was suggested that the papers could be divided among different lexicography journals. This could be complicated, however, as authors may have journal preferences and editors will have their own preferences. Ilan will discuss the possibility with the journal editors.

Vision and membership

Suggestions about Globalex have been sent by some individuals from different continental associations. The MC welcome more suggestions.

Peer reviewer database

Dion mentioned the possibility of having a database of peer reviewers in the field of lexicography. This idea had already been presented by Robert Lew (IJL) to Ilan and Shigeru Yamada (Lexicography), and the MC will take part in further action to promote it.

Next meeting

The next meeting will be early in December 2018.

Globalex management committee report, 12 December 2018

On 12 December 2018, five members of the Globalex Management Committee met via Skype (Ed Finegan, Ilan Kernerman, Simon Krek, Dion Nkomo, and Lars Trap-Jensen; unable to attend was Julia Miller). Ilan chaired.


Members reported little feedback from disseminating earlier Globalex reports to the continental associations but agreed it is important to continue soliciting their input. Euralex president Gilles-Maurice de Schryver communicated his thoughts and ideas directly to Ilan.


Simon’s team will prepare instructions for providing material, including guidelines about what can be uploaded: published material, including proceedings, journals and monographs.


The editors have agreed to post Lexicon on the Globalex site. Once a few remaining questions are clarified with the editors, Gilles-Maurice’s scanned files of the journal will be posted.

Globalex workshop on lexicography and neologism at DSNA 2019

Fourteen to fifteen submissions were received, two about English, most others on other European languages; five or six papers will likely be presented virtually; the other presenters will be present in Bloomington. The proceedings will be published online on Globalex website and a peer-reviewed version of the contributions is under consideration for a special issue of Dictionaries. As editor of Dictionaries, Ed welcomes the synergy between DSNA and Globalex on this matter.

Asialex, Euralex, Afrilex

Gilles-Maurice de Schryver will be a keynote speaker at Asialex, 19-21 June 2019 in Istanbul. Zoe Gavriilidou (Euralex board member and organizer of its 2020 congress) showed interest in cooperating on a workshop on bilingual lexicography in Istanbul. No further news about the 2019 Afrilex conference available now. A Globalex presentation may be possible, but probably not a workshop, given the shortness of the remaining time to organize.


Elexis intends to be presented at the Asialex conference. A workshop is possible, but time is short and other proposals are under consideration. Simon and Miloš Jakubíček will choose soon between a workshop and regular presentation. A paper about Elexis has been accepted for presentation at the 2019 DSNA biennial meeting (Iztok Kosem, Jelena Kallas, and Simon among the authors).

Journal Reviewers

The potentially delicate matter of journal editors sharing names of possible referees was discussed. As a neutral outsider, Ilan will contact the editors of Dictionaries, Lexikos, International Journal of Lexicography, Lexicography to put them in touch with one another on the matter.

Next meeting is tentatively scheduled for the week of 14 January.

Meeting closed at 17.13 CET

Middle English Dictionary Renovation

Paul Schaffner

A year ago, we at the University of Michigan Library reported that the long-deferred revision of the online Middle English Dictionary and its associated resources had begun, thanks to support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (awarded under its Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program), as well as the University of Michigan Library, which has taken up the challenge of Michigan’s decades-long commitment to historical lexicography. Though no dictionary revision is ever complete, and least of all this one, we can now report that the immediate goals of the project have been met, and that our revision efforts have borne fruit in the form of a new online platform and interface, bolstered by improved and enlarged data. We have been making changes in all three of the components of the Middle English Compendium (Dictionary, Bibliography, and Corpus), but only the former two of three are getting the new interface, for now. The Corpus is merely getting new texts (roughly doubling the total, as well as expanding the genre coverage), but remains temporarily housed on the old interface.

Changes to the data underlying the Dictionary and Bibliography fall roughly into four categories: enlarging the content (more quotations, more senses, more entries, more works cited, etc.); updating the data (to reflect changes in scholarly consensus, and the recent appearance of reference works like the Digital Index of Middle English Verse and the Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English); correcting the data (where it was wrong or misleading); and ‘opening’ the data to make it less print-oriented and more computer-searchable.

Changes to the interface partly reflect changes in the data — for example, we now include a search by modern English reflex based on improved links between MED and OED; and partly reflect a more modern sensibility with regard to the user experience. We have given up the ‘90s look and embraced something a little cleaner and mobile-friendly, with some modern tricks like marginal facets (by part of speech, subject label, and language of etymon) and type-ahead word selection.

Finally, changes to the underlying indexing platform move the MED from an obsolescent, vulnerable and heavily customized one-off system to one employing modern and far more nearly off-the-shelf components, ensuring the continued viability of the site, as well as making it far easier to update regularly and frequently–something we intend to do.

The ‘old’ MED and the ‘new’ MED will run concurrently for a few months, at least till we work the bugs out of the new system (please report any you find), and probably till we add an ‘advanced search’ with cross-field Boolean options to the new system.

The URL for the new MED is:

What the new MED gains:

  • Changes to roughly 12,000 entries.
  • Draft additions to about 8,000 of those…
  • …including 10,000 additional quotations.
  • 2,000 wholly new entries (mostly in draft or ‘stub’ form).
  • A smarter, more modern interface, with some faceting.
  • A more informative results list, making it easier to choose the desired entry.
  • A (beta) lookup search by modern English reflex.
  • The expansion of many cryptic abbreviations; the resolution of 80% of the surviving blind (undocumented) bibliographic references
  • Improvement of the ‘other spellings’ search by resolving all those difficult-to-parse parenthes(es and -dashes.
  • More nearly comprehensive linking to OED and DOE.
  • Redatings of some manuscripts, done in coordination with OED.
  • About 350 works added to the bibliography, including most of the major editions of the past twenty years.
  • References to DIMEV and LAEME (from the Bibliography) and to J. Norri’s Dictionary of Medical Vocabulary (from the Dictionary).
  • About 150 additional texts in the associated Corpus of Middle English.
  • The ability to be updated as often as new material is available.

What the new MED loses:

  • Some of the more sophisticated but less used multi-field Boolean searches (at least for the time being).
  • Its frozen-in-time quality.
  • Its veneer of authority and comprehensiveness, since we are adding much semi-digested material without having the time to incorporate it fully; many ‘stub entries’ on the Wikipedia model, and many draft additions, all marked as such. Making the material available seemed important enough that it was worth exposing the fact (which was always true) that the MED, like almost any dictionary, is always a contingent set of surmises, always a semi-informed work in progress.

What will stay the same:

  • The same familiar structure.
  • The same text, aside from corrections, etc.
  • The same editorial principles.
  • A continuous editorial tradition (some of the same lexicographers).
  • An unchanged platform for the Corpus, at the moment, since it sits on a generic library text-serving platform that will be upgraded separately.

Work still in progress:

  • Ongoing correction and supplementation.
  • Identification and regularization of taxonomic ‘binomials’.
  • Identification of internal cross-references and implementation as links.
  • Identification and unpacking of cited phrases and compounds.
  • Expansion of the inconsistent lists of spellings.


With thanks to:

  • The U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities
  • The University of Michigan Library
  • Michigan’s MED gift fund

Staff: Paul Schaffner (editor, P.I.); John Latta and Mona Logarbo (editors); Robert E. Lewis (MED chief editor emeritus; volunteer editor); Evan David, Sarah Huttenlocher, and Alyssa Pierce (editorial assistants); Chris Powell (eagle-eyed retrieval specialist); Bill Dueber, Gordon Leacock, and Tom Burton-West (programmers); Ben Howell (interface designer); Bridget Burke (interface developer); and Nabeela Jaffer (implementation project manager).


Digital Johnson’s Dictionary

Beth Rapp Young recently submitted a proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund “Johnson’s Dictionary Online: A Searchable Edition of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language [1755, 1773].” If funded, Jack Lynch (Rutgers) will be the project’s Lead Editor, working with Young and her colleagues Carmen Faye Mathes, Amy Larner Giroux, and William Dorner at the University of Central Florida to create a digital scholarly edition of Johnson’s 1st [1755] and 4th [1773] folio dictionaries. The project will offer search functionality comparable to other modern dictionaries, and will be available at, replacing the crowd-sourced edition currently there.  The plan is to proceed in three stages: first, create a searchable 1755 edition; second, create a searchable 1773 edition; third, enhance the coding in both editions. Facsimile images of these volumes will be contributed by The Warren N. and Suzanne B. Cordell Collection of Dictionaries at Indiana State University. Also contributing to the project are consultants Marc Alexander (University of Glasgow) and David-Antoine Williams (St. Jerome’s University in the University of Waterloo), and Advisory Board members Robert DeMaria, Jr. (Vassar), Mark Kamrath (UCF), Lynda Mugglestone (Pembroke College, Oxford), and Allen Reddick (University of Zurich). Funding decisions will be announced in March 2019.

Beth Rapp Young, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of English
University of Central Florida


California State University, Fullerton Foundation
Fullerton, CA

Project Director: Timothy P. Henry
[Documenting Endangered Languages – Fellowships]
Project Title: Mitsqanaqa’n Ventureno-English Dictionary
Project Description: Research and analysis to complete a bidirectional dictionary of Ventureño, a dormant language of the Chumash family of central and southern coastal California, and English.
Outright: 25200 Match: 0









In DSNA news, this fall we have an update from Ed Finegan about our journal, requests from Steve Kleinedler and Stefan Dollinger, a report on the most recent MetroLex, and an obituary for one of our earliest members.

Update on Dictionaries

Ed Finegan, Editor, Dictionaries

In the Spring 2017 issue of the Society’s Newsletter, I reported that our journal would be moving to two issues a year in 2017, and we successfully did that, with the help of two associate editors (Orion Montoya and Sarah Ogilvie) and a new reviews editor (Traci Nagle). Volume 38 contained four articles (including the second installment of the history of the early years of the Society, written by Michael Adams), five Reference Works in Progress reports, and seven book reviews. The first issue of volume 39 will be mailed in August—a special issue treating problems of chronology in historical lexicography and lexicology (and with something of interest for all DSNA members in its ten articles—see the ToC below). The second issue of volume 39 will be mailed in the late Fall and will contain articles, reviews, and RWiPs.

Confessions of the Antedater by Fred R. Shapiro; Dating and Chronology in the Lexicology of Mormon English by A. Arwen Taylor and Kjerste Christensen; “Among the New Words”: The Prospects and Challenges of Short-Term Historical Lexicography by Benjamin Zimmer and Charles E. Carson; Periodization in Historical Lexicography Revisited by Michael Adams; Drifting in Timeless Polysemy: Problems of Chronology in Sanskrit Lexicography by Ligeia Lugli; History in Lexicography and Lexicography in History: A Reappraisal by Mirosława Podhajecka; Toward a Feminist Historiography of Lexicography by Lindsay Rose Russell; Histories in Translation: Antonio de Nebrija, Conceptions of the Past, and Early Modern Global Lexicography by Byron Ellsworth Hamann; Designing Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online by David P. Kendal; and an Introduction by Michael Adams.

As Dictionaries moves forward, the plan is for one issue a year to be devoted, at least in part, to a special topic. A CFP for papers on the topic of Vernacular Lexicography will be issued soon, and there are plans as well for a special issue on children’s dictionaries. Keep an eye peeled!


Honorary  Presidential Memberships for 2018: Call for Nominations

Honorary Presidential Memberships recognize outstanding professional lexicographers and lexicologists early in their careers by awarding four-year memberships to the DSNA.  Additionally, for the first DSNA conference that a recipient attends during this four-year period, $400 will be awarded to help defray the cost.

Members of the Society are encouraged to nominate graduate students or professional lexicographers in the first five years of their careers for Presidential Memberships. Please send letters of nomination to Steve Kleinedler at In the Subject line, please put “Honorary Presidential Membership Nomination:” followed by the last name of the nominee. Letters should explain nominees’ lexicographical or lexicological interests, relevant activity and accomplishments, how sponsors see their nominees developing professionally, and why nominees should be members of the DSNA, in terms of both what the DSNA can do for the nominee, and what the nominee can do for the DSNA.

Please send nomination emails by September 30, 2018. Presidential Members will choose Founding Members or Fellows of the Society as their namesakes: so, a successful nominee might be, for instance, the Frederic G. Cassidy Presidential Member of the Dictionary Society of North America, if they so choose. Help us identify and recognize the next generation of DSNA’s leaders today!


Membership Committee

Dear Colleagues,

Earlier this year, the DSNA Executive voted to install a Membership Committee, for which I have taken the pro-tem lead.

We have seen in last year’s (very successful) attempt by David Jost (thanks a lot!) that a more active outreach is crucial for a healthy membership count. In this next phase, we would like to expand our efforts and attract new groups of potential members, for which I’d like to form a committee of 4-6 people that will report to the Board. If you’re interested in helping to decide, via the character of its membership so to speak, where DSNA will be heading, please be in touch. There are some ideas, but nothing is set in stone at all and I hope, very much indeed, that you will bring your own ideas to the table. Think: “DSNA in the 21st century? What do you need to do to stay/become (more) relevant?”

Please contact me if interested at stefan dot dollinger at u b c dot c a.



Vernacular Practices of Lexicography

Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America invites submissions for a special issue focused on practices of lexicography arising outside of professionalized or scholarly dictionary-making. Other disciplines describe as “vernacular” the everyday practices and products that coexist (and may preexist) alongside officially codified and valorized practices. Scant research addresses the topic even though, on the scale of human linguistic history, most “practices of lexicography” have taken place outside the context of professional lexicography.

What are practices of lexicography?

  • Explanations of meaning, in formal definitions or by other, pretheoretical strategies
  • Glosses
  • Organization of words into alphabetical, thematic, or other lists
  • Thematic or schematic arrangements of concepts (thesauruses, ontologies; alignment-chart memes, Venn diagram memes)
  • Division of word meanings into senses and methods of indicating multiple senses

What is vernacular lexicography?

Most, if not all, of what happens on Wiktionary and Urban Dictionary; digital, crowdsourced, and other electronically mediated community dictionary projects; glossaries — the brief, usually simplified and topic-constrained, dictionary-shaped word-to-definition lists found in some books; dictionary-formatted creative works; dictionary-style texts that appear in marketing, consumer goods, and internet memes that may appropriate, subvert, or parody professional standards. The tropes of structure and content in these works reveal what everyday people notice (and don’t notice) about dictionaries.

Between vernacular and professionalized lexicography

  • When did the professionalization of lexicography begin?
  • What similarities and differences are there between the work of vernacular lexicographers today and the work of important pre-professional lexicographers such as Nathan Bailey and Samuel Johnson?

Insiders and outsiders in vernacular lexicography

Missionaries have documented the languages of the communities they work with and—though now trained by organizations like SIL (—missionary lexicography has historically been vernacular. What kind of lexicography arises when an endangered or minority language is documented, from the inside, by its native speakers? How compatible are diverse indigenous linguistic practices with (largely western) lexicographical traditions? Does adherence to present-day lexicographical standards erase essential aspects of such languages?

Inquiries and expressions of interest are strongly encouraged ASAP to special issue editor:

Orion Montoya (

Final submission deadline July 8, 2019. Publication date November 2019.


MetroLex April 13, 2018

Ellen Jovin

Last April 13, Ben Zimmer launched a special MetroLex meeting of the Dictionary Society of North America with a fish on the wall behind him. It was not a literal fish, but rather, an entirely non-malodorous one from a book written and illustrated by one of the afternoon’s presenters.

Housed in its now-steady home at Columbia University, this MetroLex had two speakers, each with a book freshly published that very week of interest to Lexicographers and The People Who Love Them. The fish was the work of the first speaker, Jez Burrows, whose Dictionary Stories: Short Fiction and Other Findings emerged straight from the loins of lexicographers. (That’s not actually how he put it.) The second speaker was American lexicologist and linguistics professor Lynne Murphy, whose latest book The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English had just gone on sale.

Jez Burrows Explains His Dictionary-Fiction Process

Ensuring geographical diversity, Jez is an Englishman residing in the U.S., and Lynne is an American who resides in England. (Ben is an American residing in the U.S., but he seems likely to be good with maps.)

Jez confessed to feeling like a bit of an interloper, because he is neither linguist nor lexicographer. He is instead a professional British multi-tasker, making a living as a designer, illustrator, and writer in San Francisco.

The fuel for Jez’s book was sample sentences from dictionaries. And his collaborators were lexicographers, some of whom were sitting right there in the room as he spoke! There was even evidence: a photograph of Jez up to his chin in dictionaries. Slides showed slang dictionaries, non-slang dictionaries, a flash of Playboy—wait, what?—and other word and sentence sources.

Here’s what Jez did: he took some of the loopiest, most poignant, most idiosyncratic sample sentences from dictionary definitions, allowed himself to change pronouns, tweak some tenses, and add a few minor words, then merged them into riotous narratives and birthed a new genre of dictionary fiction.

Interloper? Heck no. Anyone who fishes about in the innards of dictionaries voluntarily for months on end, turns them into suspenseful stories, and illustrates them, too, deserves special lexicographical status. Thus, to the notion of interloperhood, we at the Dictionary Society of North America offer a gentle balderdash.

Next came Lynne Murphy, who has been supervising English from the other side of the Atlantic for some time. She writes the popular blog Separated by a Common Language, and her talk, “Two Dictionary Cultures Separated by a Common Language,” tackled a subset of that larger theme.

Ben Zimmer Introduces Lynne Murphy

For attending MetroLexers, she addressed the difficult question of dictionary cultures: how they differ on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and how publishers contribute and participate in those differences.

Lynne described a greater preference in England for unspoken rules and learning by osmosis, compared to an American attraction to “written rules,” “direct teaching,” and “self-help.” The dictionary in the United States acts as a self-help tool in a way that is not universal, or at least not very English.

Behind that self-help tool have often been signs of world-famous American salesmanship. According to Lynne, while English taglines have tilted more towards enticing the word lover, American taglines have offered “the words you need today,” “expert guidance on correct usage,” and “the clearest advice on avoiding offensive language.”

Contrary to the popular impression of many Americans that the British tend to be bossy about how we use English stateside, Lynne commented that a culture of greater linguistic prescriptiveness may be changing language faster here than in England.

Throughout the event, Wendi Nichols of Cambridge University Press and Rebecca Shapiro kindly kept attendees refreshed with food and drink, while stacks of books rested seductively on a table at the front of the room. After the presentations, books were signed, adopted, and taken home to new lives with bibliophiles.

04-13-18 Raucous MetroLex Audience

Yvonne M. Lacy, the daughter of Walter D. Glanze, one of the founding members of the Dictionary Society of North America, has informed us that he died Wednesday, May 30, 2018 in New York City at the age of 89. If you wish to send condolences, she can be reached at The obituary for Walter Glanze can be found here:






DSNA 22 at Indiana University

May 8–11, 2019


We’re happy to report that registration for DSNA 22 (May 8-11, 2019, in Bloomington, Indiana) is open! Register at

Attendance at DSNA 22 is open to members of the DSNA. If you aren’t sure about your membership status, contact the DSNA office at We encourage you to register early to guarantee your lodging preference.

We look forward to seeing you in May!


DSNA returns to Bloomington, Indiana, and the campus of Indiana University for its 22nd Biennial Meeting, May 8–11, 2019, and so does Studies in the History of the English Language (SHEL), with which DSNA 20 collaborated in Vancouver in 2015.

Abstracts of no more than 500 words for 20-minute papers about any aspect of lexicography or lexicology should be sent to by October 31, 2018. Participants will be notified of acceptance and a preliminary program posted on the conference website by the December holidays.  NB: Although DSNA is meeting with SHEL, DSNA papers will be reviewed separately from the SHEL papers and may be about lexicography in any language, not just English.

The conference will convene with a reception (perhaps after an opening session) on Wednesday evening, May 8. Concurrent sessions for DSNA and SHEL will be scheduled throughout Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning, with SHEL and DSNA business meetings scheduled on Saturday after lunch.

The conference will include several special features and events. For instance, the Lilly Library plans to mount an exhibit of dictionary and English language materials and will host a reception for us in the library to open the exhibit. I’m currently working with curators to prepare newly acquired collections of special interest to DSNA — that’s all I’ll say now, just enough to pique your interest. In Barbados, Jason Siegel introduced “The Five-Minute Lexicographer” into the program of DSNA 21, and we plan to continue what after Bloomington will be a tradition. And to help celebrate Indiana University’s Bicentennial, we’ll dwell some, in various ways, on the university’s place in the history and current practice of lexicography. It’s likely that anyone interested can make a pre-conference excursion to the Cordell Collection at nearby Indiana State University on Wednesday.

Also, I hope to arrange a few pre-conference seminars: 8–12 participants with pre-circulated papers and a plan for dissemination of the proceedings (special issue of a journal, book publication, etc.). DSNA 17 in Bloomington included just one such seminar, organized by Ilan Kernerman, the proceedings of which were published as English Learners’ Dictionaries at the DSNA 2009, by KDictionaries, edited by Kernerman and Paul Bogaards. If you would like to propose a specially-themed seminar, please let me know at the e-mail address above. I hope we’ll have three or four, this time around. The seminars would require Tuesday arrival and would take place all day Wednesday. Seminarians, especially, will appreciate the opening reception.

Bloomington in May is warm and dry. The city (with a population of roughly 85,000) is easy to navigate and walkable, and for the most part wheelchair accessible. Once most students have left for the summer, it’s relatively quiet and all amenities are available to visitors — excellent restaurants and bars, other evening entertainment (a comedy club, for instance), museums, cafés, etc. Participants are welcome to make their own arrangements, but a block of rooms will be reserved in the Biddle Hotel — inside the Indiana Memorial Union, where regular sessions and nearly all conference events will be held. Rooms will also be available in a student residence hall, just ten minutes away from the Union, for those who need to minimize expense. We will provide a walk-by or stand/sit-and-mingle breakfast in some Union space before each morning’s first session.

Please do not hesitate to contact me with questions and rest assured that we will welcome you warmly when you arrive in Bloomington and provide the best conference possible.

Michael Adams

Other Conferences

1st International Conference on Terminology: Heritage and Modernity, THM-2018. Sept 14-18, 2018, Tbilisi, Georgia.  CFP deadline June 15, 2018

23rd International Conference of the African Association for Lexicography, AFRILEX 2018, June 27-29, 2018, Cape Town, South Africa.

8th Modern Greek Dialects and Linguistic Theory, MGDLT8, October 4-6, 2018, Gjirokastër, Albania

9th International Conference on Historical Lexicology and Lexicography, ICHLL9, June 20-22, 2018, Sant Margherita Ligure, Italy.

ASIALEX2018 Lexicography in the Digital World, June 8-10, 2018, Krabi, Thailand.

The Modern Language Association’s second International Symposium will be held in Lisbon, Portugal in July 2019 and will bring together hundreds of international humanities scholars. We are inviting paper and session proposals related to the symposium theme, Remembering Voices Lost. Proposals may be submitted in English, French, Portuguese, or Spanish and are due by 21 September 2018.

If you have any questions about the symposium, please don’t hesitate to write to

eLex conference series continues with a conference in the beautiful city of Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Portugal. Please forward this announcement to any colleagues or lists that may be interested in the conference. Dates: 1-3 October 2019. Venue: Vila Galé Hotel, Sintra, Portugal

Deadline for abstract submissions: 15 February 2019. Conference website: (more information available soon)


On 20 July Peter Gilliver was awarded a PhD by the University of Cambridge for his work on the history of the OED. The body of published work submitted for consideration included principally his book The Making of the OED—which has just been issued in paperback—but also several papers given at DSNA conferences or published in Dictionaries.

Brianne Hughes reports: the Bishop Fox Cybersecurity Style Guide was compiled over the last 2 years to help the technical editors and security researchers of Bishop Fox be technically accurate and internally consistent in their technical reports. Since its public release, groups like tech journalists, sci-fi writers, and non-security businesses have used it as a starting place for their own in-house style guides. The guide’s usage notes focus on how to capitalize terms in the middle of a sentence, how to pronounce them, and when to use monospace font. Most terms do not have a definition, but many make the user aware of potential confusion between terms that are used ambiguously (e.g., crypto could mean cryptography or cryptocurrency). Version 1 was released in February 2018, and V1.1 was released in late June 2018. Future updates and releases are dependent on industry innovations and suggestions from the public that are sent to The Cybersecurity Style Guide is currently available as a searchable browser version and as a downloadable PDF at A custom Word dictionary based on the word list will be released in late 2018.

DSNA Board Members Steve Kleinedler and Kory Stamper have started a podcast about lexicography and dictionaries called “Fiat Lex.” Each episode is an informal conversation centered around a lexicographical topic guided by Steve and Kory’s experiences as lexicographers. Episodes are released twice a month, and can be found on iTunes and Google Play, or at

Elizabeth Knowles says “In And I Quote, which will be published by OUP in September 2018 (see, I’ve followed the stories of a number of quotations used today to explore how we find, choose, and use them, and how they can then take on a life of their own within the language. I have actually been working directly on the book for the last three years, but of course it incorporates the experience of editing the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations over more than twenty years.”

Lynne Murphy’s book, The Prodigal Tongue: the love–hate relationship between American and British English was published in the spring of 2018 by Penguin USA and (with American and British reversed in the subtitle) by Oneworld (London). Building on expertise gained in 12 years of writing the Separated by a Common Language blog, the book takes aims at transatlantic myths and stereotypes about the English language. It has been reviewed widely and positively, including in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and the Times Literary Supplement, where novelist Lionel Shriver wrote: “The Prodigal Tongue is playful, funny, smart and often humbling. The volume reads well for a general readership, yet evidences enough scholarly underpinnings that it must have been a lot of work. Murphy’s prose is beguiling.” Lynne spent April promoting the book in the US, including a talk at the DSNA-sponsored Metrolex in New York.

Request for Member News

Got news? Please send it either in the first or third person, as you prefer, for the next issue of the DSNA Newsletter to Peter Chipman at


A grateful editor thanks all who have contributed to this issue and looks forward to the future contributions of these and many more of you. This Newsletter reflects all that you are doing in the service of words and dictionaries. In this issue of the Newsletter, in addition to the usual features, you will find the second of what we hope will be a series of pieces on the state of lexicography: Jason Siegel’s “Lexicography in the French Caribbean: An assessment of future opportunities.“  I begin a series of articles on the history of the DSNA Newsletter. David Vancil draws on more of his vast experience to tell us about “Memories of Missouri & Collectors.” We also learn from Walter Hakala and his student Kerry Collins about his course in lexicography, one of a continuing series about teaching the subject. I hope that others of you who offer similar courses will contribute.

Something to which lexicographers can aspire: the Joseph Worcester house on Brattle Street, Cambridge, built in 1843


The DSNA Newsletter is usually published twice a year, in the Spring and Fall. The editor is David Jost. Member news items can be sent to Other Newsletter correspondence, such as articles for publication, should be directed to the editor at

Send correspondence re membership, etc. to

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

This issue:  Vol. 42 No. 1 (2018)

Cumulative issue #85


Orin Hargraves kicks off a series of pieces I am commissioning about the state of lexicography at present:

The 21st Century Lexicographer

My view of the profession of lexicography is through a lens shared by many, though not all, of my colleagues: I am now and have always been an independent contractor, a freelance, and never a salaried employee of a dictionary publisher. My guess is that today, most people who define words in exchange for money work in the same capacity as I do and to that degree, my perspective may reflect the experience of others.

Perhaps a good way to focus the current state of the occupation is to look at what came before it. I see the trajectory of lexicography over the last quarter century as a series of line graphs, with time on the horizontal axis and various changing parameters on the vertical. I’m better with words than with graphs, so here are descriptions of the graphs with arrows to show their direction.

Digital technology: ↗

The ascent, and now nearly complete triumph of digital technology in lexicography is paramount in understanding where lexicography is today. Undertaking lexicographic analysis and synthesis for any language today, whether widely spoken, endangered, or dead, hardly makes sense without the aid of computers at every step. This means that reasonably high-level computer literacy is a requirement of any competitive lexicographer: at a minimum, you need to be well-versed in corpora and corpus-querying software, and be comfortable with at least one commercial dictionary-making software platform. If you have programming skills, that is even more valuable.

The Dictionary as Print Artifact: ↘

In the early 2000s I worked on as many as six projects in a year that would eventually be printed as dictionaries or language reference books. In 2017 I worked on only one: the Scholastic Children’s Dictionary. Every other lexicographic project I worked on last year will become an app for phones and tablets, or a component in a natural language processing (NLP) system.

Pay: →

My first job in lexicography (1992) paid £8 (at the time, about $13) an hour. I know of lexicographers today working for rates between $25 and $45 an hour, so there has been marginal  but not substantial improvement in pay. But no one is in this game to get rich. Today I think it is more common (and probably a better deal for the lexicographer) to work on a piece rate or bid for a whole job. This is an excellent incentive to learn to work quickly and efficiently. It’s also a fact that many things you can do with good lexicographic skills pay much better than doing lexicography.

Number of people in the profession: ↘

When I look at the names of people I have worked with on dictionaries over the past 25 years—they’re easy to find because they all appear in the dictionaries themselves—I see that fewer than one in ten is still in lexicography today. This is directly related to the next heading.

Availability of work: ↘

There was a kind of golden age of English lexicography in mid to late 1990s when a small handful of dictionary publishers kept dozens of freelances in the US and the UK in full-time work. In 1996, when I was working in London, I  can remember an editor at Bloomsbury  making a day trip to Wiltshire for the express purpose of talking to an experienced lexicographer who was passing through there, in the hope of taking her on—so rare was it then to find someone with the desired skills. At the sparsely attended DSNA conference in Barbados last year, I verbally advertised a slot for a single lexicographer on a small dictionary job. Immediately I had enquiries from five qualified people.

Diversification of skills: ↗

An independent lexicographer today absolutely must have a wide, flexible, and imaginative skillset, centered in facility with digital technology. If you want to make a living from your knowledge of words and what they mean you must think of every possible way to apply it, and spend a fair amount of time making sure that people who might be able to pay you for your knowledge and skills know about you. In recent years I have done comparatively little defining—fewer than a thousand words total on two projects in 2017—but I have written and edited books and articles about language, consulted on legal cases, helped develop tools for use in natural language processing, and edited television scripts for historical accuracy. A lot of this work has come to me either from fellow DSNA members or from networking that arose originally within the DSNA.