Jennifer Schuessler takes an enjoyable look (for the NY Times) at lexicographer Kory Stamper and her inside view of the workings of the Merriam-Webster empire (now sadly diminished, like all lexicographical enterprises, but still going strong). Stamper (whom I’ve posted about before, e.g., here) has a good attitude about language:
Ms. Stamper has no patience for self-styled purists who quail at “irregardless” — an actual word, she notes. (She is O.K. with ending sentences with prepositions as well as — brace yourself — split infinitives.) But she also describes being caught up in some higher-stakes fights.
One chapter takes an uncomfortable look at the racial assumptions baked into a Merriam-Webster definition of the color term “nude.” Another recounts the furor that erupted in 2009 when it added a subdefinition to its entry on “marriage,” noting uses to refer to same-sex unions that weren’t necessarily legally sanctioned. [..]
If dictionaries are a form of information technology, the building is in some ways a catalog of obsolescence. A downstairs gallery includes a 1934 poster advertising the second edition of the Webster’s New International Dictionary, billed as “one of the thickest books ever printed.” (The technology needed to bind it, Ms. Stamper said, no longer exists.)
There are also oddities like an asymmetrically bound Seventh New Collegiate from 1969, designed so it could hold itself up — an innovation that failed to catch on, probably because if you open it too far from the center, it falls over.
There’s a picture of that asymmetrically bound failure, as well as of the monstrously fat second edition of the New International and other related objects, and in general it’s worth a look. Thanks, Eric!
Addendum. Stan Carey reviews Stamper’s new book, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries.