I keep forgetting to post the NY Times obit (by Bruce Weber) of lexicographer Laurence Urdang. He was the managing editor of the first edition of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, which is the first dictionary I remember being awestruck by (I had not yet experienced the glory that is the OED): it was huge and readable and had great etymologies. He was also the founding editor of Verbatim, a quarterly newsletter on language that I had the pleasure of copyediting for a while. And he was a man after my own heart:

Mr. Urdang graduated from Columbia and did graduate work there in linguistics, studying Russian, German, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit and Polish. He was a lecturer in linguistics at New York University from 1956 to 1961, and his first job in publishing was as an associate editor in the dictionary department at Funk & Wagnalls. He never did complete a graduate degree, however, stopping short of his dissertation.
“He always said he considered the Random House dictionary his dissertation,” Nicole Urdang said.

I hereby proclaim Languagehat my dissertation. (You can read Ben Zimmer’s remembrance of Urdang here.)

The obit ends with this quote from his introduction to one of his books, which makes for a nice impromptu vocabulary test: “This is not a succedaneum for satisfying the nympholepsy of nullifidians. Rather it is hoped that the haecceity of this enchiridion of arcane and recondite sesquipedalian items will appeal to the oniomania of an eximious Gemeinschaft whose legerity and sophrosyne, whose Sprachgefühl and orexis will find more than fugacious fulfillment among its felicific pages.”


  1. Crown, A.J.P. says

    Interesting that he decided to use capitals for Sprachgefühl and Gemeinschaft, I wouldn’t have expected a lexicographer to do that in an English sentence, I don’t know why.
    I would have thought this were more of a magnum opus than a dissertation, myself.

  2. “I hereby proclaim Languagehat my dissertation.”
    I’m sorry, Mr. Hat, this will not do. It lacks a clear introduction or conclusion, its approach to sources is very haphazard, and there are too many wisecracks scrawled in the margin. I’m afraid I will have to recommend only a deferred pass; copious rewrites needed.

  3. Dammit, you’re my adviser, aren’t you, come back from the grave to taunt me? All right, all right, one more rewrite, but that’s it!

  4. I’m impressed by that quote. I haven’t met an Anglophonic sentence that made me look up that many words (five to be precise)since–well, probably first grade.
    Please, please, what book is it? I must have it for Christmas, even if I have to gift it to myself.

  5. Should have clicked the link first, of course. Now begins a quest in the used book shops.

  6. Hi, great language blog you have here! Would you be interested in doing a link exchange? Just send me an e-mail with your URL and I’ll add your link to my blog. You can add my link as “Learn That Language Now”. I look forward to reading more blog entries from you. Thanks!

  7. fimus scarabaeus says

    ta ever so.

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