DSNA Fall 2021

Dictionary Society of North America

President’s Report, 2019–21

In preparation for writing this, I have been struck again by what extraordinary changes the last two years have seen. I would like to use this report to review what seem to me to have been key points, as well as taking the opportunity to express my thanks for some of the skilled support so generously given. It does of course represent a personal view, and inevitably there will be other things I could have mentioned, but I hope you will be generous to any sins of omission committed in the interests of keeping extent within reasonable grounds (which any lexicographer feels bound to do).

There are of course some things which have been a constant, above all the support and wisdom offered by DSNA colleagues. I have been reminded anew of just how much in the last two years I have relied on the skill and experience of Ed Finegan, our Vice-President and President Elect, Kory Stamper, our Executive Secretary, and the generous support and engagement offered by the whole Board: David Jost, Anne Curzan, Sarah Ogilvie, Peter Gilliver, and Steve Kleinedler, our Past President. They know how grateful I am for all they have given. I am very aware, too, (and perhaps it is a feature of our Society) of the ready and generous way in which others have made their experience and skill available. Michael Adams has been an expert chair of key nomination groups, and Orin Hargraves was ready both to take on organization for what was to be our 2021 Conference in Colorado, and then to continue that responsibility for what has become the deferred meeting in 2023. Wendi Nichols has continued to put her immense reference publishing experience at the service of the Publications Committee.  David Jost continues to make the Newsletter an essential part of our outreach. Sarah Ogilvie took on the position of DSNA representative to Globalex. Most importantly, Ed and Kory have somehow found the time to arrange for DSNA’s first virtual biennial, to be held in June. There is a typical pattern in all this of people ‘going the extra mile’ for which I can only be grateful.

We have also been able to secure succession in the most positive way. Not only has Lynne Murphy been installed as Editor of Dictionaries, a worthy successor to the previous distinguished incumbent, but we have elected a full and strong slate of excellent candidates who will work with Ed to take the Society forward. (The new title of Executive Director is an example of the importance of an apparently small change: it recognizes properly the real responsibilities of this role.) Nothing could be a more positive testimony to the health and future prospects of the Society than that able and talented people are ready and willing to take on responsibility for its essential work. I take it as a general encouragement too for the broader position that we have recently had the welcome news of the establishment of another lexicographical group in the Americas with the foundation of ‘AmericaLex S’. The existence of a related society in the same hemisphere is likely to benefit both organizations and their members.

This all speaks to essential strengths, which has served us very well in these difficult times. Inevitably, we have had to defer some of the things we were hoping in 2019 that we could put in train, not least a structured reaching out to our membership with a questionnaire. The strategic planning we had hoped to develop in the spring of 2020 was overtaken by COVID. Nevertheless, I believe we were able to lay some key groundwork. By April 2020 we had been able as a Board to analyse both strengths and challenges and to identify key questions for strategic development and forward planning.

That is not to say that the “Time of COVID” has not been difficult, not to say tragic. The death of Madeline Kripke brought early awareness of the ravages of the disease. And of course, the difficulties are not over. Although the position in some countries has, thanks to a vaccination programme, improved, in others it is still worsening. Further variants may yet develop, and need to be addressed. We have not yet seen anything like the full economic impact, but it is reasonable to assume that it will continue to compromise opportunities within the lexicographical world. Academic studies, library budgets, publishing plans, and openings for freelance work are all likely to be adversely affected.  In a straitened climate, a society with the interests of its membership at heart can play an important role in supporting and encouraging key expertise, and in providing a forum in which matters of interest can be discussed.

When in 2019 I had the immense privilege of becoming President of DSNA, I expressed the hope that above all we could focus on strategic planning for the longer term, and be proactive as well as reactive in our efforts. Now that my two-year-term is nearly up, and we have had to react to entirely unprecedented circumstances, I feel that we have in fact demonstrated a real capacity to do that appropriately without losing sight of the broader vision. And perhaps the challenges have brought their own benefits. While we have not yet been able, as we had hoped, to look in detail at our membership and what they value most, circumstances did in fact provide significant clarification. In reducing our focus to concentrate on ‘must-have’ items, it became evident that a biennial meeting (virtual or in person) was an essential, as was the continuing provision of the journal. Agility in the face of circumstances will remain an essential, and precise forms of outreach to members are still to be further worked out, but it is now clear that the journal and a regular meeting are non-negotiables for a flourishing Society. For the rest, I have every confidence that Ed and the talented team who will support him are now well placed to build on the foundations that have, thanks to those named here and many others, been laid.

In closing, I would like to say again how much I have appreciated the friendship and professional expertise I have found in the Society, and what an honour I regard it to have been asked to serve as President of DSNA. I look forward now to a continued association that I greatly value, and to supporting in every way the work of our incoming President and Vice President and the new Executive Director and Board.

Elizabeth Knowles, President, DSNA

4 May 2021

Farewell from Kory Stamper

I chaired my final DSNA Business Meeting as the Executive Secretary in late May, and enjoyed seeing so many of our members over Zoom. As my final act as outgoing Executive Secretary, I share some of the highlights of my final meeting here with the broader membership. (The slides for the Business Meeting can be found at https://dictionarysociety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/DSNA23-Business-Meeting.pdf)

From a fiscal standpoint, the Society is in very good stead, even considering the stresses of the pandemic. It can’t be overstated how much the loss of conference income from cancellations and the weight of staff salaries have endangered our sister societies; we are fortunate that our primary sources of income (royalty revenue from Project MUSE and membership dues) have not only been steady through the last two years, but have increased. Through the stewardship of the Board, we have accrued a comfortable cushion that will enable us to secure the 2023 conference site in Boulder, CO, continue to invest in our journal, and give us “breathing room” to undertake, once more, strategic planning and new endeavors for the Society.

Our membership has increased as well, with more student members than ever before, and more “lexicography-adjacent” members in recent years. An increase in the price of institutional memberships for schools and libraries has actually netted us more institutional subscribers, and easy renewal structures online have meant that our individual subscriber base has stayed steady, rather than dipping in off-conference years as has been the pattern.

I’ve been grateful that the Board has supported my proposals to help streamline the work of the Executive Secretary and shore up our governance and operational structures. Chief among these are putting in place systems to help automate membership, drafting a Code of Conduct, and proposing (and passing!) an annual budget. And we forged new territory in holding, this year, our first fully online conference.

We do have some challenges still ahead of usthe resumption of strategic planning under the continued threat of COVIDbut I hand the reins off to Lindsay Rose Russell confident that the foundation that has been laid will be handily built upon.

Thank you for your kindness and support during my tenure!

Report from Lindsay Rose Russell

Election Results

Results of the 2021 DSNA election saw Kory Stamper elected Vice President, Lindsay Rose Russell elected Executive Director, and Jeannette Allsopp and Orión Montoya elected Members at Large of the Executive Board.  Michael Adams, Richard A. Spears, and David Vancil were named Fellows of the Society.  The ballot also saw successful passage of two revisions to the Code of Regulations meant to bring them in line with the actual practice of the Society and best practices of sister societies.  Many thanks to the Nominating Committee—Michael Adams, Katy Isaacs, Sarah Ogilvie, and Orin Hargraves—and the Executive Board for their thoughtful and thorough work in proposing candidates and amendments.

Executive Board Update

The Board met in May, just before the first virtual meeting of the Dictionary Society of North America, to bid farewell to outgoing members Peter Gilliver and Sarah Ogilvie while welcoming new members Jeannette Allsopp, Orión Montoya, and Lindsay Rose Russell.  Many thanks were offered to Elizabeth Knowles and Kory Stamper for serving as President and Executive Secretary respectively; both remain on the Board in new capacities.  Coinciding with Lindsay Rose Russell’s tenure as Executive Director, relocation of the Society’s offices to Urbana, Illinois were announced.  In addition to discussing the Society’s healthy membership and finances, the Board welcomed confirmation that the 2023 conference in Boulder will indeed happen at the University of Colorado (May 31June 3) with Orin Hargraves heading up the Program and Conference Committees.  Save the date!

The Board met again in July.  The success of the 2021 virtual DSNA23, organized by Ed Finegan and Kory Stamper, was a primary topic of praise and discussion, as was the possibility of future virtual DSNA programming to supplement in-person biennial meetings.  The other point of business was strategic planning for DSNA’s future, the process of which will likely include a survey of the membership, revisitation of educational initiatives, revision of the website, and revival of the lexicographical projects initiative.  


Executive Director
Dictionary Society of North America


Our New Executive Board

Executive Director

Lindsay Rose Russell is Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois and an enthusiastic member of DSNA. Those who attended the recent biennial meeting at Indiana University will remember her production of “The Big Book,” the play by Grace Gove performed at the picnic celebration of the completion of Webster’s Third. She is an intrepid archival scholar and author of the much-acclaimed Women and Dictionary-Making: Gender Genre, and English Language Lexicography (Cambridge UP, 2018), “Sharper tools: Missionary women’s lexicography in Asia,” which appeared in The Whole World in a Book: Dictionaries in the Nineteenth Century, edited by Sarah Ogilvie and Gabriela Safran (Oxford UP, 2020), and already three articles in Dictionaries (2014, 2018, 2020), among other works.

Vice-President/President Elect

Kory Stamper was for nearly two decades an editor of Merriam-Webster dictionaries and now works as Senior Project Editor for American English for Cambridge University Press. She is the author of the best-selling Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries (Pantheon, 2017) and has written scads of articles and made many media appearances to talk about words and dictionaries, most recently on Nicholas Cage’s History of Swear Words (Netflix). She is almost through a four-year term as DSNA’s Executive Director.

Members-at-Large of the Executive Board

Jeannette Allsopp is the former director of the Centre for Caribbean Lexicography at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, which is now named the Richard and Jeannette Allsopp Centre for Caribbean Lexicography. Besides contributing to the Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage (Oxford UP, 1996), she also edited The Caribbean Multilingual Dictionary: Of Flora, Fauna, and Foods in English, French Creole, and Spanish (U of West Indies P, 2006) and recently contributed “Dictionaries of Caribbean English: Agents of standardization” to the Cambridge Companion to English Dictionaries, edited by Sarah Ogilvie (Cambridge UP, 2020).

Orión Montoya is a software engineer who specializes in systems for dictionary research and production. Their career began with digitizing South Asian dictionaries for the University of Chicago library and since, they have worked in various capacities with Oxford Dictionaries, Wordnik, IDM, and now Textio, all the while freelancing as a computational lexicographer. They recently organized the forum on vernacular lexicography in Dictionaries (Fall 2020).


David Jost
Anne Curzan

Biographies of New DSNA Fellows

Michael Adams is Provost Professor and Chair of the Department of English Language and Literature at Indiana University at Bloomington. While in graduate school at the University of Michigan, he worked as an assistant on the Middle English Dictionary (1986–1988). He was a consulting editor on the fourth edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2000) and a contributing editor on The Barnhart Dictionary Companion: A Quarterly of New Words (1991–2001). He has also published significant articles on the history of lexicography. Within DSNA, he was editor of Dictionaries (2000–2005) and the Society’s president (2013–2015). As well as chairing DSNA committees and serving as the Society’s ACLS delegate, he organized two DSNA biennial meetings – in 2009 and 2019. He is currently co-editing The Cambridge Handbook of the Dictionary, and his historical/critical edition of the classic Problems in Lexicography is forthcoming (Indiana University Press).

Richard A. Spears has been a member of DSNA since 1984. He took his Ph.D. in linguistics at Indiana University and was Adjunct Associate Professor of Linguistics at Northwestern University for decades while also Director of the Dictionary Department of the NTC Publishing Group, for which he personally edited or co-edited some two dozen dictionaries, many of them in several editions, some of them translated, such as NTC’s Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions (1989 →) and McGraw-Hill’s Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs (2004 →), thus becoming a major figure in the American commercial dictionary market, as author, editor, and publisher. He is also author or editor of other books, such as Basic Course in Mende (Northwestern University, 1967) and West African Folktales (Northwestern University Press, 1991).

David Vancil, now retired from Indiana State University, was the fifth curator of the Warren N. and Suzanne B. Cordell Collection of Dictionaries. The Cordell Collection is important in its own right, but it also occasioned the conferences held at ISU in 1971 and 1975 that led to the founding of DSNA. There has thus always been an intimate relationship between the Cordell Collection and DSNA, and throughout his tenure at ISU, David Vancil embodied the connection and continuously communicated the value of the collection to the world at DSNA meetings, many other conferences, and in journal articles and book chapters. He is the author of Catalog of Dictionaries, Word Books, and Philological Texts 1440–1900 (Greenwood Press, 1993). He has been a member of DSNA since 1986.

Proposed Amendments to the DSNA Code of Regulations

Proposed Amendment 2021-ED [Section III. A. and All Other Mentions of “Executive Secretary”]

(Note. The proposed change reflects the evolution of the role of executive secretary in DSNA and better reflects current responsibilities inherent in the role. The change would parallel titles in some other organizations such as the Linguistic Society of America. While still other societies employ titles like “Secretary-Treasurer” or “Treasurer,” in DSNA those roles are combined in the office the amendment proposes to name “Executive Director.” Below is one of several mentions in the Code of Regulations, but the amendment proposes to change all mentions in the Code. Below, the existing language comes first, the proposed language second. Underscoring and strikethrough serve solely to highlight the proposed changes.)

The officers of the DSNA shall be a President, a Vice-President, and an Executive Secretary.

The officers of the DSNA shall be a President, a Vice-President, and an Executive Director.

Proposed Amendment 2021-M [Section IV. A.]

(Note. The origin of the existing language is not clear. In practice, DSNA has been meeting biennially, not annually, for quite some time. Below, the existing language comes first, the proposed language second. Underscoring and strikethrough serve solely to highlight the proposed changes.)

There shall be an annual meeting of the DSNA at a place and time determined by the Executive Board.

There shall be an annual meeting of the DSNA at least every two years at a place and time determined by the Executive Board.

Proposed Amendment 2021-B [Section III. C. 4.]

(Note. Amendment 2021-B reflects the fact that most DSNA business is now conducted electronically, not by “mail” and can therefore be concluded efficiently within a two-month window. A three-month window may have been helpful in the past but is now outdated and unhelpful. Below, the existing language comes first, the proposed language second. Underscoring and strikethrough serve solely to highlight the proposed changes.)

A mail ballot shall be submitted to the voting members of the DSNA not less than three months prior to every alternate year meeting of the Corporation, commencing with the 1991 meeting.

A mail ballot shall be submitted to the voting members of the DSNA not less than two months prior to every biennial meeting of the Corporation, commencing with the 2021 meeting.

Globalex Reports

Orin Hargraves


The Globalex Management Committee (MC) met virtually, once monthly, January through June, 2021. These reports summarize the major items discussed and the actions taken.


Association news

  • The problems of online voting for committee membership in all associations were discussed.
  • A new continental association is being founded: AmericaLex SCCM (i.e. South, Central, Caribbean and Mexico). English, Spanish and Portuguese are the main languages of communication. A preliminary website is available at https://americalex.org/.

Conferences and workshops

  • The 19th Euralex conference is rescheduled for 7-12 September 2021 in Greece.
  • The third Globalex Workshop on Lexicography and Neology (GWLN 2021), with a focus on coronavirus-related vocabulary, will be held online, pending decision on the new date (31 August) and conjunction with the online Australex conference on 1-2 September 2021.
  • 4th TIAD (Translation Inference Across Dictionaries) – September 1 hybrid – in conjunction with LDK 2021 in Zaragoza, Spain

Globalex website

The MC members have made comments on the Globalex website and will consider redesigning it in Q2. The agreement that each continental association contributes $20 US a year needs to be formalized. This will cover expenses of the Globalex website.

Globalex management committee membership and observers

  • Discussion was held on the length of membership for management committee members, in accordance with the terms in the Regulations ratified in September 2020.
  • The status and number of potential observers for Globalex meetings were discussed.
  • Julia Miller (AustraLex) and Sarah Ogilvie (DSNA) and are stepping down as MC members. Julia will be replaced by Amanda Laugesen of AustraLex from July 2021. Sarah Ogilvie will be replaced by Orin Hargraves from July 2021.
  • Ilan Kernerman (Chair) and Julia Miller (Vice Chair) are stepping down from these positions. A new Chair and Vice Chair will be elected by the new MC at the next meeting in July.
  • A representative of the newly formed AmericaLex will be invited to join the MC.


Elexifinder will be added to the Globalex website.

Globalex tax report

Q1 report was submitted in the Netherlands on April 20.


The latest issues of Lexicon have been added to the Globalex repository.

DSNA Conference 23 Program

DSNA 23: Fitness of Our Dictionaries and Lexicography to 21st-Century Realities

Held virtually on June 4, 2021
10:00 am – 3:30pm North American Eastern Time
(GMT 15:00 – 20:30)


Introduction: Michael Adams (former President, DSNA)

Keynote:  Dictionaries as Authorities: Can They Be and Should They?

Kory Stamper and Bryan Garner
Moderator: Lane Greene (The Economist)


1. How global and national events affect modern lexicography
Moderator: Ben Zimmer (Wall Street Journal)
Online dictionaries are able to adapt speedily to rapid changes in vocabulary and usage. As an example, Covid-19 and the pandemic have spawned a range of new words and new applications for existing words, such as contact tracing, community spread, flatten the curve, PPE, social distancing, and Covid-19 itself. Who monitors these and similar developments for dictionaries? Who writes or revises the definitions? How do lexicographers keep up with global and national changes in vocabulary and word meanings? How does the proliferation of new vocabulary affect established lexicographical approaches?

  • Stefan Fatsis: “34 Days: Inside Merriam-Webster’s Emergency Coronavirus Update”
  • Wendalyn Nichols and Lewis C. Lawyer: “Identifying Emergent Meanings via the Word of the Year Process: A Case Study”
  • Rachel Stone: “Two-Tongued Lexical Trends: Updating Inclusive Language in a Bilingual Dictionary”

2. Dictionaries in the public eye
Moderator: Anne Curzan (University of Michigan)
Dictionaries continue to carry significant authority in the professional and personal lives of people in all walks of life and all stations. Courts in the US and Britain increasingly cite dictionaries as evidence for the meaning of even everyday words. Lexicographers and dictionary publishers now use social media in savvy ways to engage more users. Reporters are fascinated with new words and how they get into dictionaries, and they pay a good deal of attention to contests about words (e.g., WOTY, spelling bees, political gaffes). Teachers and students increasingly turn to online resources for authoritative word explanations and definitions – sometimes online dictionaries from established publishers and sometimes not. How do common understandings – or misunderstandings – of dictionaries and their authority manifest in how users approach these issues? What trends can we find in the attention to dictionaries in the public forum? How should dictionaries adapt to each of these audiences and common uses of dictionaries – or should they?

  • Joseph Kimble: “The (Big) Trouble with How Courts Use Dictionaries”
  • Lindsay Rose Russell: “Dictionary Boycotts and the Power of Popular (Re)Definition”
  • Katherine Martin: “Reading the Decontextualized Dictionary”

3. The Future of dictionaries and lexicography
Moderator: Sarah Ogilvie (Oxford University)
While a dictionary’s word list (entry list) and definitions have traditionally been the work of humans – lexicographers – they are now increasingly generated semi-automatically from large text datasets (corpora). New working models are emerging in which digital humanities, corpus linguistics, linked data, NLP, and machine learning are applied to the selection of illustrative quotations, disambiguation of word senses, choice of labels, and writing of definitions themselves. How efficient and accurate are these computational methods when compared to those of humans? Will human lexicographers always be needed? Will some computer programs be able to generate definitions on the fly and provide the information users expect? And will the notion of “the dictionary” need redefining as a result?

  • Orin Hargraves: “Lexicography in a Post-Dictionary World”
  • Timothee Mickus, Denis Paperno, and Mathieu Constant: “What Neural Networks Need to Produce Definitions”
  • Jonathon Owen: “‘Toward’ and ‘Towards’: A Case Study on the Feedback Loop between Published Writing and Dictionaries”

A Life in Lexicography: Elizabeth Knowles (President, DSNA)

Provision will be made for break-out rooms and a social hour following the formal conference.

Upcoming Lexicography Conferences

ESSE 2020. An online seminar session on “Dictionaries: Ideologies and Norm” will be held at the European Society for the Study of English, Aug. 30-Sept. 3, 2021, esse2020lyon@gmail.com

EURALEX XIX. Virtual Congress, 7-11 Sept. 2021.  https://euralex2020.gr/

ICALP. International Conference on Applied Linguistics and Psycholinguistics, Nov. 18-19, 2021, London, UK https://waset.org/applied-linguistics-and-psycholinguistics-conference-in-november-2021-in-london

Once and Future English Conference, March 10-12, 2022, University of Notre Dame London Global Gateway in Trafalgar Square, onceandfutureenglish@nd.edu

ICALP. International Conference on Applied Linguistics and Psycholinguistics, May 24-25, 2022, London UK https://waset.org/applied-linguistics-and-psycholinguistics-conference-in-may-2022-in-london

ASIALEX 2022, 17-19 June 2022, “Asian Lexicography in the Digital Age: Challenges and Solutions.” School of Foreign Studies, Guangxi University for Nationalities. https://www.asialex.org, asialex.org/#news/21

ICHLL. 12th International Conference on Historical Lexicography and Lexicology, June 22-24, 2022 at the Université de Bretagne Sud, Lorient, France. https://ichll2022.sciencesconf.org/

ICALP. International Conference on Applied Linguistics and Psycholinguistics, Nov. 18-19, 2022, London UK https://waset.org/applied-linguistics-and-psycholinguistics-conference-in-november-2022-in-london

ICALP. International Conference on Applied Linguistics and Psycholinguistics, May 24-25, 2023, London UK https://waset.org/applied-linguistics-and-psycholinguistics-conference-in-may-2023-in-london

ASIALEX 2023, June 16-18, 2023 “Lexicography and Artificial Intelligence.” Yonsei University, Seoul. https://www.asialex.org, asialex.org/#news/20

Table of Contents Fall 2021

Conferences: the program of our 2021 remote conference and Lise Winer’s list of other meetings

DSNA: Reports by Elizabeth Knowles, Kory Stamper, Lindsay Rose Lee, report on elections, and report on Globalex by Orin Hargraves

Elizabeth Knowles: A Life in Lexicography

In Memoriam

Farewell: Retirement of the Editor

Collection by David Vancil

Dictionaries by Janet DeCesaris

History by Michael Adams

State of Lexicography by Orin Hargraves

QuotationsNest of Singing Birds by Elizabeth Knowles

Publication Information



 A workshop in lexicography and lexical computing
After last year’s unavoidable cancellation, we are happy to announce that the Lexicom Workshop will run again this year. Participant numbers will be limited to just 20 (to ensure social distancing) and we have a very flexible cancellation policy.

Jesus College, Cambridge, UK
20 – 24 September 2021

Your 5 days to get up-to-date with the latest developments in
corpus-driven lexicography and to activate and enhance your
corpus building and corpus query skills with some of the top experts in the field.

Check the programme, lecturers and invited speakers on the website


Call for papers: Children’s dictionaries

Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America invites submissions for a special issue focused on the topic of Children’s Dictionaries, edited by Susan Rennie.

Children’s dictionaries have a long history within the practice of lexicography, from Renaissance dictionaries compiled to aid the learning of Latin to the latest dictionary apps designed for use in schools. In content and style they are enormously varied, ranging from pedagogical dictionaries written for classroom use to whimsical glossaries of words in children’s fiction; and they span a wide age range from first word books and picture dictionaries to dictionaries aimed at high-school students.

A children’s dictionary is very different to an adult dictionary of the same size and headword count; and decisions over which words are allowed into, or excluded from, children’s dictionaries can be emotive. More weight may be given to words used in fiction, and less to slang and current buzzwords. Definitions and usage examples will reflect the experience of children rather than grown-ups; and children’s thesauruses typically have a more creative focus than their adult counterparts.

Despite these important differences, and the long and varied history of children’s dictionaries, there has been comparatively little research to date on the topic, and the specialism is often passed over in general surveys or handbooks of lexicography. This special issue aims to redress that imbalance. As well as pertaining to lexicography and dictionary history, the topic also has relevance for researchers in education, psychology and children’s literature.

Articles are invited on any aspect of children’s dictionaries, including but not limited to the following:

  • the history of children’s dictionaries or children’s lexicography
  • the compilation of children’s dictionaries, including the use of dedicated corpora
  • the content of children’s dictionaries, including the treatment of potentially sensitive terms
  • prescriptive versus descriptive approaches in children’s dictionaries
  • the relationship between children’s dictionaries and children’s fiction
  • the design of children’s dictionaries, including the role of illustration and typography
  • thesauruses or topic-based dictionaries for children
  • children’s dictionaries in languages other than English, including bilingual and ELT
  • digital applications in children’s lexicography
  • children’s dictionaries and literacy
  • dictionary usage by children and/or in schools

Full papers should be submitted to guest editor Susan Rennie (scrennie@gmail.com)by January 15, 2022. Informal inquiries before that date are welcome.

All papers will be reviewed anonymously by at least two peers.

Information about the journal and guidelines for contributors can be found here.

Publication is planned for Spring 2022 (volume 43, issue 1).

DSNA Ballot

The Nominating Committee and Executive Board are pleased to present the 2021 DSNA ballot for electing new Board officers, new Fellows, and voting on new Amendments to our Code of Regulations. You can access the ballot at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DSNA21.

Voting is limited to members of the DSNA in good standing. The ballot will remain open until April 17, 2021.

This ballot features quite a number of items, so please click through each page of the ballot and vote in all three sections. The ballot is introduced and explained in a letter by President Elizabeth Knowles.

We will announce the results of the ballot at our Biennial Business Meeting on May 21, 2021, at noon EDT (US). A link to the Business Meeting will be sent out to our members a week prior to the meeting.

Thank you for your participation!

Publication Information Spring 2021

The DSNA Newsletter is usually published twice a year, in the spring and fall. 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. 45 No. 1 (2021)

Cumulative issue #91

Quotations Elizabeth Knowles Spring 2021

Ships that Pass in the Night

Elizabeth Knowles

It is a common experience for a researcher, pursuing a particular line, to come across a tempting side path; one of the pleasures of retirement is that it is purely a personal choice as to whether or not you break off to pursue it. This happened to me recently, when I was looking for earlier general references to dictionaries of quotations. One of those I found was an item in the “Queries” column of New York Times of January 28, 1905 which immediately piqued my interest. The question turned on the origin of a book title. As the correspondent (a George Ashby of Yonkers) put it: “When Miss Harraden’s ‘Ships that Pass in the Night’ was published, it was said of a certain dictionary of quotations at the time that it was the only one that gave this phrase and its author’s name.” He wanted the answer to two questions. “Who was the author, and whose dictionary was it?”

            The first part of the question was easily satisfied: the New York Times supplied the source (a line from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Theologian’s Tale: Elizabeth” in his Tales of a Wayside Inn), and gave the full line from which the phrase was taken: “Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing.” They could not however supply the answer to the second part, and possibly thought but poorly of Mr Ashby of wanting to know it: “We do not know which dictionary of quotations is referred to, but it is not a very important matter” – a view in which I differ from them, since I thought it said something rather interesting about the prevalence, or lack of prevalence, of what is now a reasonably familiar quotation. I decided to explore further the background to Miss Harraden and her book (I knew nothing of either of them) and to see whether I could identify the dictionary of quotations referenced.

            Very fortunately, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has an entry for Beatrice Harraden (1864–1936), describing her as a “novelist and suffragist.” Ships that Pass in the Night, published in 1893, was her first novel, and made a hit with the public. The Sewanee Review of November 1894 described it as “more spoken of than any book that has appeared since ‘Robert Elsmere’” –that is, Mrs Humphrey Ward’s 1888 “drama of religious faith and doubt” as ODNB describes it, which had also been a notable bestseller. OED, in its entry for ships that pass in the night, gives the Harraden title as its first example of usage in relation to people whose acquaintance was necessarily transitory.

Consulting the Bodleian catalogue, I discovered that the year after her book appeared, Beatrice published a pamphlet entitled Concerning Ships that Pass in the Night, in which she went into some detail about the title. It had in fact originally been a working title only, explained to the publishers when she submitted it as a temporary stop-gap, “just for the sake of calling the book something.” However, the publishers evidently liked it, and it survived; as it turned out, somewhat to her regret. She had been given the words years ago as a quotation from Longfellow, but she had never traced them to a particular work, although she had “searched through many editions of Longfellow.” Unfortunately, as she discovered, as her book became more widely known, the first question put to her by a reader was likely to begin “Where –”, on which she knew instinctively what was going to follow. “I … began to wish that my ships would sink and be heard of no more.” Beatrice (who was evidently at the time of writing in the US) thought that “in the land of Longfellow no one needs to ask such a question”, but said that she understood letters of inquiry were still being sent to her in England. (Of course, given George Ashby’s query in 1905, there can hardly have been universal recognition of the words, even in America.)

Turning to usage evidence, a trawl online reveals a number of instances in the first decades of the twentieth century, mainly in US sources. Beatrice’s work does seem likely to have had the effect of cementing this particular phrase in the public consciousness – but what was the only dictionary of quotations, at the time her book appeared, to include the relevant quotation? It was not in the 1882 eighth edition of the premier American collection, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, and in fact did not appear either in the 1905 ninth edition. The one contemporary compilation I have found that did include it is the 1882 Cyclopædia of Practical Quotations, edited by Jehiel Keeler Hoyt and Anna Livia Ward. By 1914 and the tenth edition, however, Bartlett’s had caught up; the Longfellow entry included the key lines, complete with footnotes to a number of references employing similar images.

I suspect that today Longfellow’s Tales of a Wayside Inn may not be frequently read, but it would be virtually unthinkable for a dictionary of quotations which included a Longfellow entry not to have this particular line. I find it interesting to reflect on this bit of quotation history, in which a now-forgotten writer may, by an almost accidental choice of title for an unexpectedly successful book, have had a significant effect on both language use, and the content of a dictionary of quotations published today.

Elizabeth Knowles

Oxford, November 2020