Linguist David Crystal has some interesting thoughts on dictionaries (doubtless not uninfluenced by the fact that he serves on the advisory committee for the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English). He says, for instance, that you should buy new dictionaries “as often as you change your car… I would never rely on a dictionary if it’s more than five years old.”

According to Crystal, English vocabulary is developing faster than other areas of the language. The latest Longman edition contains about 3,000 additions since the previous one, which was released in 1995.

“English itself has borrowed words from almost every other language in the world,” said Crystal, who refers to the English language as “a vacuum cleaner of languages.”

Stopping the process of globalization would be the only way to stop English words from influencing local languages, Crystal said. He said that people should realize that “when you borrow words from another language, it adds to the expressive richness of your own language, giving a dimension which the language did not have before.”

Therefore, he recommended taking advantage of what he called “the typhoon of vocabulary,” pointing out, however, “You have to be in control of the language all the time.”

“In schools and in universities,” he said, “tell the child… what’s happening to the language. Get them to talk about the language.”

He finishes up with some thoughts on text-messagisms like “C U l8r,” which he seems to view with a kindly eye. (Via Taccuino di traduzione [30/09/2003: Daily Yomiuri].)


  1. Buy a dictionary? Can old-school print publications actually keep up with the pace? Seems like an argument for web-based electronic dictionaries…
    Then there is the question of whether we should still be relying on companies to tell us what is a word and what isn’t, or wether it should all be done via some wiki? Or even something like Google’s glossary?

  2. Dont forget folks, Crystal is a COMEDIAN!
    Context to every quote is surely helpful…

  3. dungbeattle says

    English Language. Its a stew pot you pick the pieces that fit your taste. Each Profession (including the Oldest)has own its version of this stew. The Lawyers make very fine print out of it. One can go on and on. Every One should Learn their Parents Tongue and and have English for communing with diverse groups, but keep the your Original tongue, for it has become very boring with one size fits all, like jeans, tea shirt and a modern car so blah, same burger,same coke, same dah dah bang ……………etc; yuk.
    Must not lose the richness of diverse languages but at the same time must be able to connect with all others for when we do not understand, the fear creeps in. Then push becomes shove then “…”.

  4. As always, Sir Dungbeattle, you make inimitable sense.

  5. everyone uses the phrase “hit a snag” but nowhere is there any information of how this phrase came into common use or where it originated. You have also used it on your site

  6. A “snag” is a tree or branch embedded in a river bed and constituting a hazard to navigation; hence, by an obvious metaphorical extension, ‘a concealed or unexpected difficulty or obstacle.’ If a boat hits a snag, it’s got a problem.

  7. Crystal, who refers to the English language as “a vacuum cleaner of languages.”
    I might describe it so, but I generally refer to it as “English”.
    </pet peeve>

Speak Your Mind