Re: Dictionaries

Subject: Re: Dictionaries
From: Stephen Bernhardt <sbernhar -at- NMSU -dot- EDU>
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 1994 09:15:22 -0700

On Thu, 27 Jan 1994, Karen Kay wrote:

> Stephen Bernhardt said:
> > What distinguishes Merriam
> > Webster from some other dictionary publishers is that they do their own
> > research, using traditional lexicography. That's more than can be said
> > for American Heritage.

> Can you explain this further?

My professors at Michigan-Ann ARbor gave me the following understanding:

Merriam Webster uses traditional techniques that have readers collect
instances of the use of words on slips with some small context and that
are then filed in pidgeon holes until enough are collected to actually
write a definition based on current usage. I am unsure of the extent of
computerization of the work. The readers were not necessarily employees,
but people from all over who enjoyed reading and clipping instances of
words that suggested new usages, additional meanings or developments in
meaning. What it means is that a word does not mean what it means in
another dictionary; it means what we come to read it to mean once we
collect a couple of hundred instances (I am making up the number) and
apply our analytical intelligence to the samples of the word in actual
contexts of use.

Does that make sense? AS I was given it (and I am willing to be corrected
by someone who knows more than I do) American Heritage does not do
simiarly original lexicographic research, relying instead on the expertise
of their editors to make decisions about new words and new meanings. And
they have tended to rely on somewhat conservative, well educated experts
(not lexicographers) to make pronouncements for the usage panel.


> Stephen A. Bernhardt >
> Department of English, Box 3E >
> New Mexico State University >
> Las Cruces, NM 88003 >
> 505-646-2027 FAX 505-646-7725 >
> e-mail sbernhar -at- nmsu -dot- edu >

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