when is a word a *real* word?

Subject: when is a word a *real* word?
From: Mark I Halpern <Mark_Halpern -at- SMTPGATE -dot- TESSERACT -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 23 May 1996 13:00:29 PST


The discussion about "functionality" has become, in part, a
discussion about what dictionaries the word does or does not appear
in; now the question has been raised whether its absence from the OED
is significant, or is just a sign that the OED hasn't been revised
recently, and so on.

I think that we professional writers should be more sophisticated
about dictionaries; I offer this anecdote to promote such a healthy

A couple of generations ago, the best-known teacher of English in
America was the Harvard professor, George Lyman Kittredge. He had
edited a one-volume Shakepeare that is still in use today, was a
consultant to Merriam-Webster -- in short, The Authority. The story
goes that once, after a lecture, a student approached him and said,
"Professor Kittredge, I believe you misused the word <<fill with any
word of your choice>> in your lecture." Those within earshot gasped at
the student's temerity, and expected that Kittredge, or perhaps God,
would destroy him with a thunderbolt. But Kittredge took it in good
part, and said, "Well, let's consult the dictionary." So they did, and
the dictionary supported the student! At which Kittredge remarked,
"How interesting! I must remember to change that the next time I
revise the dictionary."

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