Gilliver on Lexicography.

OUPBlog has an interview with OED editor Peter Gilliver that is short but enjoyable; here’s his answer to “How did you become interested in lexicography?”:

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in language. Both my parents were language teachers, and the family was always discussing English words and usages. And I remember being fascinated by the first dictionary I ever looked at: it was a dictionary for schoolchildren, but it must have been an unusual one in that it was full of strange and intriguing words that a schoolboy was hardly likely to come across in his reading (chalazion is one that sticks in my mind). Later my interest in words found other outlets, like Scrabble and The Times crossword.

But these things are a long way from lexicography as such; and in fact it was only in 1987, when a friend — knowing that I ‘liked words’— drew my attention to an ad for a job on the OED, that I seriously thought about it as an occupation. And that was when I realized that I couldn’t think of a more interesting job. I still can’t, 29 years later.

(Why couldn’t I have seen such an ad?) The first word he worked on at Oxford was fish, and his favorite word (or the one he names “rather than give the rather uninteresting answer ‘I don’t have one’”) is twiffler, which we discussed back in 2010.

Update. Part 2 is up.


  1. From Wikipedia:
    Chalazion is a cyst in the eyelid due to a blocked oil gland. They are typically in the middle of the eyelid, red, and non painful. They tend to come on gradually over a few weeks.

  2. I have favorite words, mostly because I like their etymologies. I like all the frequentatives a lot, and disgruntled most of all.

  3. Oh, sure, we all have favorite words in the sense of “words we like a lot,” but asking for “your favorite word” is a different matter: people want you to pick one that’s your very favorite of all time. Which is like asking what’s your favorite book, or your favorite piece of music; it’s silly and unanswerable.

  4. My generic answer to questions like this is “Anyone who claims to have a favorite X hasn’t experienced very many Xes.”

  5. Trond Engen says

    When people ask me of my favourite X, I say “Y?”

  6. Trond Engen says

    If an X is asking, I may say “Clearly not U”.

  7. If I were going to be marooned on a desert island and I could take only one word with me, it would be “disgruntled.” There’s a word that will give you hours and hours of lexicographic pleasure.

  8. Greg Pandatshang says

    “frequentatives” is itself a pretty nice word.

  9. Allan from Nevada, Iowa says

    Marooned on a desert island? I’d have lots of occasions to use my favorite French word: malheureusement.

  10. Here’s a recent bit from the New Yorker, about the OED’s surf vocabulary consultant. He’s one of Us.

  11. Huh, I remember reading that and thinking I should post it. I’ll add the link to the emergency stash.

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