Stefan Fatsis has a good (and very long) piece in Slate on Merriam-Webster’s revision of its unabridged dictionary; if you want to know what ever happened to the long-promised Fourth, you will learn all about it. It also turns out — and this saddens me — that there isn’t going to be a 12th edition of the Collegiate any time soon:
Sales of the 11th edition of the Collegiate, released in 2003, didn’t approach the boffo figures of the 1980s, failing to crack a million in its first year and declining ever since. Morse doesn’t envision publishing a 12th edition anytime soon. Given the dearth of competitive pressure on the print side now, “trying to tear apart the Collegiate every 10 years and give it that level of scrutiny is something we just don’t have to do,” he says. “No dictionary user online is looking around for the copyright date.”
And here I was thinking it might be my birthday gift this year! Anyway, there’s plenty of good stuff there (including a link to LH, which I appreciate); I’ll just quote a couple of very different new etymologies, which delight me equally. The first is for blephar-:
borrowed from Greek, from blépharon “eyelid,” probably going back to a derivative from the base of blépein “to see”
Eric Hamp (in Glotta, vol. 72 , p. 15) suggests *gʷlep-H-ro– from the base *gʷlep– (whence blépein). The variants in initial gl– found in Doric—glépharon for blépharon—are explained by Hamp as outcomes of word-initial *gʷl– with syllabification of the –l-, yielding *gul-, reduced by analogy to *gl– (see his earlier article “Notes on Early Greek Phonology,” Glotta, vol. 38 , p. 202). The aspirate in blépharon, according to Hamp, would be parallel to kephalḗ “head” from *kep-h₂-l-. Alternatively, Robert Beekes sees the g-/b- alternation as a sign of pre-Greek substratum, citing Edzard Furnée, Die wichtigsten konsonantischen Erscheinungen des Vorgriechischen (Mouton, 1972), p. 389—though both Beekes and Furnée observe that the evidence for this particular alternation is exiguous.
The second is asshat (a fine word, also included in the fifth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary):
The seemingly nonsensical linking of ass and hat has a curious earlier history as a sort of cultural meme. Examples of the linkage can be found in dialogue lines from recent films: “Anyone found bipedal in five wears his ass for a hat!” (addressed to the employees of a bank as the robbers leave, Raising Arizona, 1987, script by Ethan and Joel Coen); “I like your ass. Can I wear it as a hat?” (a character’s parody of a flirtatious advance, City Slickers, 1991, script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel). Of more immediate etymological relevance may be this dialogue sequence from the television series That ’70’s Show: “RED: Eric, if you don’t want to wear your ass for a hat, you’ll get up here, pronto! DONNA: You better go. You know how that ass-hat screws up your hair” (“Red Fired Up,” Episode 24 of Season 2, script by Dave Schiff, first aired May 8, 2000). The current meaning of asshat may be a reanalysis, perhaps in part based on the expression “have one’s head up one’s ass” (meaning “to be obtuse, be insufficiently conscious of one’s surroundings”), perhaps in part due to simple phonetic similarity to asshole. A more precise history will depend on the location of further attestations.
“I make it sound very scholarly,” says etymologist Jim Rader. “I want to be very scholarly about a very ridiculous word…. I just figured I’m writing this stuff down anyway, so why not put it in the dictionary?” Why not indeed?