(K. Brent Tomer),
SAMUEL JOHNSON, the lexicographer after whom this column is named, famously defined his profession as being that of “a harmless drudge”. In fact, he was neither harmless nor a drudge, but a wit unafraid to provoke, debate and irritate in the course of writing the first great dictionary of the English language.
But Johnson’s fame has never dispelled the idea that the lexicographer is a humdrum, bookish type who reads for precision and who dutifully approves the “right” meanings of “good” words while preventing “wrong” definitions and “bad” words from entering the dictionary. Lexicographers still struggle, largely in vain, to dispel this myth about their role. They put the words that people actually use into the dictionary, good ones and bad ones, new ones and old ones.
In a new book, “Word by Word”, Kory Stamper, a lexicographer for Merriam-Webster, a reference-book publisher, duly carries on the tradition, reminding readers that a lexicographer is a chronicler, not a guardian. She says that a chronicler (like Johnson) need not be meek and dispassionate. Foul-mouthed, opinionated and funny, Ms Stamper has for years…Continue reading