Pay No Attention to that Woman Behind the Curtain!

Nobody talks about dictionaries and their contents with quite the same verve, wit, and plain old good sense as Erin McKean, editor of the New Oxford American Dictionary. So hurry on over to, where she was recently a guest blogger. Verbivores will love her chatty rants on everything from how words get into dictionaries and how people like her do their work to some of her favorite reference works (which may surprise you). A sampling:

Being in the dictionary, then, doesn’t make a word “real.” All words are real. Words are like dogs. Some dogs are pedigreed, some are not, but the unpedigreed dogs are dogs just the same — they bark like dogs and run like dogs and rub their little doggy noses into your hand whether or not they have a piece of paper from the Kennel Club. It’s the same with words. The right word in the right place can make you laugh, or cry, or think — act like a “real word” whether it’s been caught in alphabetical order between the covers of a thick reference book or not.

The lexicographer is quite a bit like the Great and Wonderful Oz. Think about it. The Scarecrow already had a brain; the Tin Man already had a heart; the Lion already had courage; all Oz did was make them aware of it. All the lexicographer does is point out the words that are already real.

Check it out.

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