La Grande Rousse has an entry today on Webster’s Online Dictionary: The Rosetta Edition. This remarkable (if somewhat annoying) site scrapes up huge quantities of information about virtually any string of conjoined letters you can find on the internet (check out the list of items beginning with aa), calling them all “words” and offering definitions (often from the 1913 edition of Webster’s Unabridged), synonyms, crossword definitions, “commercial usages,” images, quotations, usage frequency (telling you how often the word is used as what part of speech, although “midwife” is supposedly used as a noun 100.00% of the time, which is clearly untrue), “Frequency of Internet Expressions,” “Modern Translations,” “Ancestral Language Translations,” “Bible Trace,” “Matched Bible Translations,” “Derivations & Misspellings,” rhymes, “Alternative Orthography” (hexadecimal, Leonardo da Vinci, ASL, semaphore, Braille, &c, even including Arthur Conan Doyle’s “dancing men”), “Bibliographic Items” (mostly media references and Amazon.com), and who knows what all. Much of this stuff is cute but useless; what’s of primary interest to Languagehat, of course, is the translations, and I regret to say they are not to be depended on. You’d expect problems with a multivalent word like set or bow, so I tried whale, which seemed fairly straightforward, but here is the entirety of the Bulgarian entry:
???? ?? ??? ?? ?????? [hodya na lov za kitove], ????? [shibam] (beat, cut, drive, flog, lash, scourge, slash, swinge, switch), ??? [kit] (mastic, paste), ???? ??????? [neshto ogromno] (sockdolager), ??????????? [naperdashvam] (clobber, dress down, lace, lambaste, larrup, lather, paddle, pepper, skin, thrash), ??? [biya] (bang, beat, chime, club, curry, feeze, go, hammer, hide, hit, kill, knoll, lace, lather, lay, lick, maul, palpitate, peal, pelt, pulsate, pulse, ram, ramrod, ring, rough up, shoot, strike, swingle, thrash, thresh, wallop, welt, whip, whop, zap).
There is exactly one useful translation here, kit, and there’s no way to tell that’s the one you want unless you know Bulgarian. The word for ‘shit’ in Danish is given as junk and the Dutch as shit; I don’t know either language, but I have grave doubts about both alleged translations. For Russian it gives der’mo, which is one possibility but hardly the only one—the basic equivalent for the noun is govno and for the verb srat’, neither of which seems to be known to this Webster’s.
Speaking of which, why “Webster’s”? As they say on their About page, “In no way (other than a common lexicographical heritage) is this project related to dictionaries bearing the trademark or name ‘Merriam-Webster’ (Merriam-Webster, Inc.)… Nor are we affiliated with other book publishers that have created printed or electronic dictionaries bearing the name of Webster.” They begin their explanation:
We were originally interested in honoring Samuel Johnson, but after Black Adder (played by Rowan Atkinson and written by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton) so brilliantly lampooned Dr. Johnson, we simply needed another name. Of course, the name of Johannes Gutenberg was already taken by the very worthwhile Project Gutenberg Electronic Public Library, and we did not want to cause any confusion. We were more than pleased to finally honor Noah Webster…
But eventually they get around to what I presume is the true reason:
Webster’s, often spelled Websters , has fallen into public use as a general word for “American English” or even “dictionary” when one is searching for a definition using Internet search engines. By naming the site and its URL with the term “Webster’s”, we stand a far greater chance of being found on the Internet, thus increasing the impact of this project. No apologies for this are given.
And none are needed, but I hope they improve the product.
Oh, by the way: the rhymes for shit are given as “backseat, beat, beet, cheat, cleat, compete, complete, conceit, concrete, deceit, defeat, delete, deplete, discreet, discrete, downbeat, eat, effete, elite, excrete, feat, feet, fleet, greet, heat, incomplete, indiscreet, leet, Marguerite, meat, meet, mete, mistreat, neat, offbeat, peat, petite, pleat, receipt, repeat, replete, retreat, seat, secrete, Skeet, sleet, Street, suite, sweet, teat, treat, tweet, unseat, wheat.” Something’s clearly gone wrong here. And the synonyms are “lo, lo and behold! O! heyday! halloo! what! indeed! really! surely! humph! hem! good lack, good heavens, good gracious! Ye gods! good Lord! good grief! Holy cow! My word! Holy shit!, gad so! welladay! dear me! only think! lackadaisy! my stars, my goodness! gracious goodness! goodness gracious! mercy on us! heavens and earth! God bless me! bless us, bless my heart! odzookens! O gemini! adzooks! hoity-toity! strong! Heaven save the mark, bless the mark! can such things be! zounds! ‘sdeath! what on earth, what in the world! who would have thought it!; (inexpectation); you don’t say so! You’re kidding!. No kidding? what do you say to that! nous verrons! how now! where am I?” All I can say is, gad so!