Monday, November 16, 2009

Erin McKean Redefines the Dictionary - Live Blogging as Proofreading Practise: Andrew Heck

Lexicography is the study of dictionary, which makes it fun to say complex words, but makes you seem like a nerd to people who are generally indifferent to the aesthetics of language. People are afraid of the dictionary, because they feel that it's too imposing, like a traffic cop. It feels like a rigid enforcement of words, and ultimately ideas. People aren't attracted to using words that seem unfamiliar to them in common speech. McKean makes an analogy of a lexicographer to a fisherman: the lexicographer explores words by "catching" them in an open space where so much that is unknown exists.
Our dictionaries have evolved to include colloquial words over time, which has contributed to the evolution of the language as a whole; however, there is no way to get around the fact that dictionaries are still boring to most people. Modern technology has made dictionaries impersonal. Online dictionaries improve searchability, but decrease some traditional functions of paper dictionaries. Dictionaries are limited and unintentionally exclude some words. McKean asserts, "the book is not the best shape for the dictionary." Dominant media for dictionaries changes over time, which can change certain aspects of their use. We should not ignore obscure words because they are simply unpopular.
Words are the tools for our thoughts. We should worry less about control of the language and more about description, which is the utmost goal. There should not be a fear to use new words to express an idea, simply because it isn't dictated by the database of common words. Looking closer at the usage of words that aren't in the dictionary, we find that there is an incredible number of words being used that are not "proper." By adhering to a system of words, we lose our ability to describe certain things. We tend to use the dictionary to represent the entire language, which does not suffice. Using words is very subjective and should be judged by the writer or orator, not a book. By scaring ourselves into following the basic trends of language, we are discouraged from truly getting our message across, which deflates all creation.

1 comment:

  1. This is pretty coherent, given it was written in such a hurry. Certain statements like how words are fun to say and how they make you look like a nerd didn't really need to be there but other than that it was well written.