Geoff Nunberg has a post at the Log about Simon Winchester’s review of Jonathon Green’s Dictionary of Slang (reviewed here at LH) for the New York Review of Books. I had read the review and disliked it, as I dislike everything Winchester does (see this 2004 jeremiad), and one of the reasons I disliked it was what Geoff (who otherwise finds Winchester “a personable and engaging story-teller”) focused on:
The review took an unfortunate turn, though, when Winchester brought in Jonathan Lighter’s still uncompleted Historical Dictionary of American Slang and compared it invidiously, and quite unfairly, to Green’s work. It’s another in a long line of ill-conceived evaluations of dictionaries by writers who mistake their literacy and passion for the language for lexicographical expertise—think of Dwight Macdonald on Webster’s Third, for example.
Geoff wrote a letter to the NYRB complaining about it, which he provides in his post (the magazine probably won’t run it, since it’s long and specialized), and it’s well worth reading; what leads me to post about it here, though, is that Green responded with a long and amazingly civil comment in the thread—Nunberg says it’s “almost certainly more gracious than mine would have been in the circumstances.” As I say in the thread, “the back-and-forth between Green and Nunberg above is one of the most polite and informative such exchanges I’ve ever seen; kudos to both.”