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Fiat Lex: A Dictionary Podcast
24 minutes | Nov 8, 2018
Allsorts 2: "Match Game" Wednesday [EXPLICIT]
Continuing last episode's discussion on copyediting dictionaries, Charles Nelson Reilly (played by Steve) and Brett Somers (played by Kory) talk a bit about how online dictionaries are edited and maintained. Steve mentions some of the edits to the new American Heritage online, and then the podcast quickly devolves from there into a discussion of all the "shit" words (and shit words) that Steve and Kory entered into their respective dictionaries this year. There were actual reasons for the additions. Then to bring Season 1 of Fiat Lex to a close, we return to provide you, dear listeners, with book recommendations for all your loved ones this gift-giving season! Steve gives mad props to Lynne Murphy's The Prodigal Tongue and Jack Lynch's You Could Look It Up, while Kory enthuses about Lindsay Rose Russell's Women and Dictionary-Making and Jez Burrow's Dictionary Stories. We'll list more on our Twitter account during the next month! BONUS FEATURES: - Intrepid Engineer Josh speaks! Now let him get back to setting levels, please? - Inside baseball about how the new words for those "new words!" stories get chosen. - OCELOTS? OCELOTS. Rabbits. CATS. Welcome to Mutual of Omaha's WILD KINGDOM. - Tired or Wired: Babies not born on Patriot's Day. - Dictionaraoke! Now dead, just like the ca. 1996 website it was modeled on, but still cherished. SEE YOU IN 2019 FOR SEASON 2!
27 minutes | Oct 18, 2018
Oakgarry, Oak Ross: Always Be Copyediting
New word updates (like the one that American Heritage just announced!) are super sexy, but the real work that goes into your shiny new dictionary is invisible. Today, Steve and Kory take you down the meandering, Lovecraftian rabbithole of print copyright updates, when we disappear dictionary content that no one loves to make room for "twerk" and "baconnaise." What makes a new dictionary a copyright update versus a new edition? How can you tell? What gets the axe? What utter horrors can you discretely fix while you're in there? What if your discrete fix which saves us that precious, precious space utterly fubars your style sheet? And what happens when one small change in an entry means you have to suddenly fix another 82 entries? You think you still want this job? We will do our level best to dissuade you! BONUS FEATURES! - Future Kory makes a much-needed appearance! - Steve provides all editors a handy tip should they ever lose their coat-check ticket. - "Demurely" and "kittenish," zomg. - Mispronunciation Index: none that we caught, though I'm sure, gentle listener, you will ferret them out and report them to the appropriate authorities.
23 minutes | Oct 4, 2018
Friends with Words: More Jesse Sheidlower [EXPLICIT]
Part two of our excellent interview with lexicographer, language expert, tailor/tinker/soldier and spy, Jesse Sheidlower. We continue our discussion about The F-Word and the f-word; touch on slang dictionaries; talk about verisimilitude in movie or TV dialogue and Jesse's work as a language consultant for the Amazon series "The Man in The High Castle"; geek out about every lexicographer's favorite movie (and gab about the verbing of "meet-cute"), and wrap-up with a segue to "Heathers." Jesse brings us home with some vintage "Mean Girls." THIS EPISODE CONTAINS EXPLICIT LANGUAGE. I MEAN. THE BOOK IS CALLED "THE F-WORD." BONUS FEATURES: - Two of the three lexicographers in the room have IMDB pages! - The swearing in "Deadwood" was not historically accurate. COME AT ME, AL SWEARENGEN. - What's the English word for "the jealousy one feels when one learns another person has not shared in a terrible yet common experience"? No, seriously, we're asking, because Steve has never seen "Titanic." - The Great Passage. Just read it. - Mispronunciation Index: Steve biffed "manga" and Kory mangled "Hemingway," but Jesse pronounced everything perfectly. A+ for Jesse.
29 minutes | Sep 13, 2018
Friends With Words: Jesse Sheidlower [EXPLICIT]
Steve and Kory have a special treat this week: the first half of our interview with lexicographer, author, bon vivant, raconteur, and damn fine human being Jesse Sheidlower. He talks about how he was sucked into the gaping maw of lexicography by Lord Byron's "tool," inadvertently became the hero of a novel set at Random House, wrote this little book called The F Word that resulted in the accidental utterance of said f-word on NPR and the constant-forever debunking of "Fornication Under Consent of the King," and told Steve Martin that all us word nerds adored his "Disgruntled Former Lexicographer" essay in The New Yorker. This episode features cusswords, in the event that a book called The F Word didn't give that away. BONUS FEATURES: - Jesse's words to live by: "Anytime someone says to you that something's from an acronym, if you say 'No, it's not,' you'll be right 100% of the time." - NPR voice, now with extra vocal fry! - Why too much grad school is bad for you. (Drop out NOW.) - Kory asks Jesse The Worst Question Ever and is appropriately called out for it. - Mispronunciation Index: NONE, because Jesse and his gorgeous pronunciation of "roman à clef" is here to save us all.
27 minutes | Aug 28, 2018
all·sorts ('ôl-ˌsôrts) noun plural : a mixture of assorted confections (such as licorice); often used figuratively Today's episode is an assortment of colorful treats that, like licorice allsorts, stick unpleasantly to your teeth and coat your tongue with a weird film! In a figurative way. Steve and Kory dig into the mailbag and answer YOUR QUESTIONS about crowdsourced dictionaries, reading rooms, raisins, the plum brandies of central Europe, multilingual dictionaries they love, and lung diseases. BONUS FEATURES: - Steve and Kory went on the tee-vee and you can watch the fruits of their lexicographical labors here. - SPACE GHOST guest appearances (sort of). - Learn how to say "Merry Christmas" in Yiddish! - Mispronunciation Index: none that we caught, but do let us know how very wrong we are!
30 minutes | Aug 9, 2018
I Want to Be A Dord
If you've been listening to this podcast, you know that mistakes happen. In the case of this particular podcast, they happen often! And they happen in dictionaries, too. We hope you were sitting down when we told you that. This episode is alllllll about mistakes. Steve and Kory issue corrigenda/errata for earlier episodes (and Kory can't figure out the difference between "corrigenda" and "errata"), then take you through the byzantine processes by which dictionary errors are discovered and corrected. It involves paleography! Kory talks about the biggest boner (sense 2) to appear in a Merriam-Webster dictionary; Steve tells us about the time when he had to find all the lowercase c's which had been mysteriously converted to small capped lowercase c's. And they give you handy tips on how to tell a dictionary company that you found an error without being an absolute unit of jerkery. BONUS FEATURES! - Steve talks more IPA, and we ain't talkin' beer. - Steve and Kory reminisce about the glories of blue proofs. - "Banks and banks and banks and banks" is the new "stacks on stacks on stacks on stacks." - Stamper Mispronunciation Index: "corrigenda," but she's blaming FIVE YEARS OF LATIN on that one. Also, Steve says "a error" completely naturally and it is beautiful.
31 minutes | Jul 26, 2018
Beginnings, or, Ježíšmaria/Paskan marjat
What kind of a person writes dictionaries for a living? It helps to have what Steve calls "an early awareness of language." It's Old Home Fortnight at Fiat Lex, where Steve and Kory talk about growing up around other languages, studying German and Czech during the fall of Communism, which dictionaries they grew up with (Random House '66 REPRESENT), and why it took Steve decades to learn the English word for "wooden spoon." While wandering through the highways and byways of language, we also touch on the minutiae of preparing for a career in lexicography, then promptly crush the dreams of hopeful lexicographers everywhere. BONUS FEATURES: - "Whom! WHOOOMMM!" - "Máte ústřední topění!" - Steve and Kory talk about what horribly inappropriate things they read as tender and impressionable youth, which explains a lot of this podcast. - Stamper Mispronunciation Index: none, though Kory makes a "much" for "many" mistake, so don't bother writing in to tell her. And yeah, she knows her Finnish is terrible.
23 minutes | Jul 12, 2018
The End of the Line (Literally)
Think you might be good at this lexicography racket? This episode will change your mind--or, at least, it should if you had any sense whatsoever. A good chunk of the job is mastering some of the most mundane publishing details imaginable, and that includes the subject of today's episode: the dots in the mid·dle of the head·words in your dic·tion·ary (or dic·tion·ar·y, depending on which of the damned things you're using). Steve and Kory discuss what those dots are and why they matter; Steve goes full nerdcore while dropping some head-smackingly obvious etymology; and Kory shares a major discovery which will alter the very fabric of lexicography as we know it!1 1 Not really, but it sure is fun to think such a thing is both possible and interesting enough to merit an exclamation point. BONUS FEATURES: - What the hell is that weird logo we use on Twitter? Steve has all the answers and they involve the word "fricative." - Kory pretends to sing and it only sounds a little bit like a kazoo rendition of Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima. - Sick of political arguments? Here's a point-counterpoint you can invest in. - Mispronunciation Index: NONE, ABSOLUTELY NONE. Not even the one that Kory assumed was an error.
32 minutes | Jun 28, 2018
My Blue God: Hard Words
Lexicographers have a tweaked view of the language, and that includes hard words. No, not those hard words, like “koinonia” and “marocain” (Spelling Bee shoutout!). It's the small words are the ones that make lexicographers weep. Steve and Kory take a look back at some of the hard words they've defined, and along the way, Steve talks parts of speech and forks up the conversation in the best possible way. Kory drops some nerd history about Latin and dictionaries, as she is wont to do. Colors are invoked (with an assist by Steve Martin), as are the Muppets, and God shows up as well. And we learn that Steve should have been a cartographer while Kory freaks out about directions. BONUS FEATURES: - P45! Multiple appearances thereof and the dirty secret behind it. - Goofus calls us “lower-class slobs”; Gallant says we “had humble beginnings.” - Mispronunciation Index: one. Just the one.
26 minutes | Jun 14, 2018
Pronunciations, or You Say "Diaeresis" and I Say "Diaeresis"
Lots of people use dictionaries not for the definitions--who cares about those?--but for the pronunciations. Steve and Kory talk about how those pronunciations came to be, and why the pronunciation editor gets to watch TV all day instead of getting a REAL JOB. They explain what that stupid bananapants alphabet that American dictionaries use for pronunciations is, drop some hot history on how pronunciations got into dictionaries, and go very inside-baseball on how editors figure out which pronunciations to include when they get stuck. Kory talks about Walter Cronkite and lingerie; Steve talks about flaps. And if that wasn't enough, did you know that dictionaries enter the "noo-KYOO-lur" pronunciation of "nuclear"? They sure as shootin' do! BONUS FEATURES: - Arthur the Rat! - Tattoos! (Steve's, not Kory's) - The dankest of nerd memes - Stamper Mispronunciation Index: 1 intentional, 1 unintentional, 1 disputed
24 minutes | May 31, 2018
Descriptivism and Prescriptivism
If "irregardless" isn't a real word, then why the hell is it in my dictionary?!? It's a matter of philosophy. Steve and Kory give a primer on descriptivism and prescriptivism, two approaches to describing language, and how modern dictionaries are descriptivist (which is exactly the opposite of what everyone believes). They recap the culture wars of the 1960s, which gave rise to the American Heritage Dictionary; discuss the AHD Usage Panel and what it does; lament the state of modern dictionary marketing; and gab extensively about where people can get themselves some of that sweet, sweet prescriptivism they long for. BONUS FEATURES: - Kory and Steve offer to stage-fight at your conference; - Steve introduces you to the best dictionary marketing video known to humanity (and YOU ARE MOST WELCOME); - Steve amazes Kory w/r/t Romanian; - Stamper Mispronunciation Rundown: "biases" TRANSCRIPT BELOW: ----more---- Kory: Hi, I'm Kory Stamper Steve: and I'm Steve Kleinedler. Kory: and welcome to Fiat Lex, Steve: a podcast about dictionaries by people who write them. Kory: That would be us. So last episode, we talked a little bit about how words get into dictionaries and how dictionaries are written, but we wanted to sort of backtrack and give you an underlying philosophical basis for how modern dictionaries are written. Steve: Right. And one of those perceptions that are held by the public who pay attention to the brand of dictionary, which we-- admittedly is a small subset of people who actually use reference works. Is this distinction, this dichotomy that doesn't really exist between, for example, the American Heritage Dictionary and Merriam-Webster's. Kory: Mm-hmm. So lots of people assume that we are mortal enemies. That American Heritage and Merriam Webster, we are competitors. We have always been set up mostly by our marketing departments and other people as direct competitors. But, in fact, we are not really direct competitors of each other. That's just been something that has been sort of formulated because of this philosophical difference that we're going to talk about. Steve: And also, the editors at the different companies -- we're all colleagues, most of us belong to the same learned societies such as the Dictionary Society of North America, where we meet together with much conviviality -- we're friends, Kory's my friend. Kory: And Steve is my friend. Steve: And even though we keep threatening to attend conferences and stage fake duels, with the weaponry that Kory has assembled, we have not yet done this. We may do it someday. Kory: Let us know. Let us know if you want us to come to your conferences, stage a fight Steve: We'll stage a fight or we'll just do a normal q and a section. And with this, this, this, this frame of reference that there is somehow this distinction is borne out of a concept of prescriptivism versus descriptivism. Kory: Right? So let's just define terms very loosely. Prescriptivism and descriptivism are these two approaches to language that are common in modern linguistics. Steve: A prescriptive approach is one that claims there is a right and wrong. There are rules that prescribe how one should use English or any language properly. Kory: Right. And descriptivism is the idea that all languages, all varieties of a language are an equal footing, and it's really, you're just describing usage, not passing judgment on usage. So, so if you, if you say ain't and that's native to your dialect, then that's a matter of context and not a matter of right and wrong. Steve: And truthfully, this is how most modern dictionaries in the United States are in fact produced. They're very descriptive. However, due to incidents that happened in the 1960s, in the public consciousness, there's this idea that the American Heritage Dictionary is this prescriptive dictionary and Merriam Webster is descriptive. There's this -- this argument raises its head from time to time.The New Yorker about five or six years ago, had this string of essays, followed by letters to the editor about this dichotomy that it's -- it seemed to be that the journalists were still thinking that this is the case. There's a really good article by Steven Pinker called the activist tours that you can find in the New Yorker that describes that kerfuffle in some detail. But! The original kerfuffle, how this all got steeped in the consciousness, goes back to 1961. Kory: 1961. At that point, Merriam Webster, which was one of the main dictionary companies in America, released its Third New International Unabridged Dictionary. Now, this was a dictionary that had been eagerly awaited by the public. It was 12 years in the making, over a hundred editors, over 200 outside consultants helped with it, and people assumed it was going to be in the style of all of the 19th century dictionaries we wrote where we had sort of given this idea that the dictionary is the sum of all human knowledge, and therefore is sort of this intellectual tool. 1961 comes around, and the book is released. Now the book was informed by modern linguistic thinking, and so it took more descriptivist stances on things than most people thought it should. For instance, instead of saying that something was uneducated or illiterate, we would say it's substandard or nonstandard. Those are linguistic terms, but the general public knows that linguistic terms don't really matter in the real world. So when the book was released, it was kind of roundly panned by the general press as being way too anything goes, way too, you know, just throwing aside its role as the guardian of the language-- Steve: Often revolving around one word in particular-- Kory: That would be the word ain't. Steve: Ain't. Steve: Oy. So in fact, there is a great book about this controversy that is called The Story of Ain't by David Skinner -- it's a great book if you want to know more about this. It gets into a lot of the culture wars that were going on at the time too, which I think is frankly more interesting than dictionary history, but it all ties together. So, 1961, The third comes out. It has panned in the general press and then, Steve: and then in these pre internet days, publishing companies could make a lot of money off dictionaries and as such, the fact that Merriam Webster was being excoriated in the press for its inclusion of ain't and other, kind of these liberal approaches, other editors thought, hey, we can write a dictionary that is in response to this and take a more prescriptive approach. One editor at American Heritage named -- affiliated with American Heritage -- named James Parton, came up with a plan to create a competing dictionary, that would be in response to Merriam Webster, and it is in the early sixties when he is going forth with this plan that, this, this, this concept of prescriptive versus descriptive approaches was really embedded in the consciousness of people who are paying attention. The interesting thing though, is as the dictionary -- as the American Heritage Dictionary was compiled in the sixties, the editors who were working on it, and even members of the Usage Panel who were brought into service to give their opinion on style issues, came -- well, they didn't come to the conclusion most of them had this conclusion -- is, well, no, a dictionary in fact, does to a large degree describe how words are being used. And in, in the earlier podcast we talked about corpus -- corpora material, that, that the editors were using to make definitions, craft definitions, the, the evidence is there in print as to, well, this word is used this way, this word is used this way. It's our duty to report that. So even though the genesis of the Americ
27 minutes | May 17, 2018
Getting A Word Into The Dictionary
Welcome to Fiat Lex, a podcast about dictionaries by people who write them! Yes, really. Meet Kory and Steve, your intrepid and nerdy lexicographer-hosts who will give you the drudge's-eye view of English and dictionaries in all their weirdness. In our first episode, we: - blow your minds by telling you that "the dictionary" doesn't exist; - talk about how new words get into dictionaries (not by petition, so STOP ASKING) and how that's not as straightforward a process as you would think; - explain how lexicographers find new words, which sometimes involves beer and diapers; - touch on how words get taken out of dictionaries, and how that's not as straightforward a process as you would think, either. Assuming you think about such things. (Who are we kidding here?) BONUS FEATURES! - Kory spells a word aloud correctly, which will probs never happen again; - Steve channels Chumley the Walrus and then goes right into fancy linguist talk about velars and coronals; - Tennessee represents! TRANSCRIPT BELOW ----more---- Steve: Hi, I'm Steve Kleinedler Kory: and I'm Kory Stamper. Steve: Welcome to Fiat Lex, Kory: a podcast about dictionaries by people who write dictionaries. Steve: We're so glad you're here listening to us talk about this. So we've been thinking about doing this for while. Kory: Yeah, and we just want to give you a little intro. What's the whole point of doing a podcast about dictionaries? Well, dictionaries have lots of interesting information in them and everyone uses them. Steve: And who are we, you might be wondering? Why should you be listening to us as opposed to anyone who has a concrete thought about anything under the sun? Kory and I have both worked on a dictionaries for several years. I was on staff with the American Heritage Dictionary for over 20 years, Kory: and I was on the staff of the Merriam-Webster dictionaries for over 20 years. Gosh, we've probably got 50 years of editing experience between us. Steve: Yeah. Especially if you count all the stuff we did beforehand. I worked on a lot of dictionaries for a company that was called National Textbook Company that has since had been eaten and subsumed by other media conglomerates. They might be part of Tronc now for all I know. Kory: TRONNNC Steve: The Tribune group. And my background is I have a degree in linguistics. I took a lexicography course at Northwestern and I started getting freelance work from my professor after I graduated, and one thing led to another, as they say. Kory: And I have no degree in linguistics. I have a degree in medieval studies and I fell into this job-- literally, almost tripped on a newspaper which had the want-ad for the Merriam Webster position. Steve: Well, medieval studies though, are hugely important in this field from the standpoint of etymology or just understanding how words work. Kory: Yeah, that's true. There are a lot of medievalists in dictionary companies. We could run our own Ren Faire. Steve: Yes. And that ties in also--we have both written books. I have written a English textbook called "Is English changing?" published by Routledge and the Linguistic Society of America, Kory: And I have written a not-textbook, regular-book, called "Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries," which is out in paperback this year. Steve: And in that book you can find out how Kory literally tripped over a newspaper and ended up in the position that she did. Kory: So to speak. All right, so again, dictionaries. What are they? Why are they? Who uses them? Who cares? Steve: Everyone uses them to some extent, whether-- Even though people may not use print ones as much as people used to, certainly people look up words all the time, whether they enter terminology into a search bar or look it up in print. That content comes from somewhere. Kory: And we are the people who write that content. One of the questions we get all the time and we thought would be a great question to address today in our inaugural podcast, is how words get into the dictionaries that you use Steve: and how they get out of them. Kory: Yes. Yeah. Let's talk about--let's talk about how words move in and out. Steve: Well, it's important to note that some people-- you hear people refer to "The Dictionary" as if there were only one in one authority, kind of like the Bible--which is also laughable because there's multiple versions of the Bible as well. Dictionaries are still in the process of being written, compiled, dictionary entries are being drafted, edited, written, and existing ones change over time. Kory: Yeah. And not only do they change, but different dictionaries serve different purposes. So different definitions are going to look different depending on who the audience is, who's--which companies writing those dictionaries. You know, Steve and I wrote for different dictionary companies though everyone assumes that we wrote "The Dictionary." Steve: Everyone also assumes that we're constantly at war. Kory: We're not, we're buddies. Steve: We are. We're friends. Kory: Yay, friends forever! Steve: And as Kory mentioned, there are different audiences for dictionaries, not just different companies. So you could, for example--there are several different legal dictionaries out there and they are going to take a more ingrained approach to the legal defining than a general purpose dictionary will. And you will find all sorts of dictionaries. Slang dictionaries, for example. Kory: Yep. So, so with that in mind, we'll just talk about general dictionaries, which are dictionaries that we've both worked on. So how do words get into the dictionary? Steve: The answer is not whimsy. Kory: Sadly. So quit asking me to put your damn word in the dictionary Steve: Oh, actually: we're talking about how words don't get put in dictionaries, but a good way to not get a word included in a dictionary is to write to a dictionary company and say, "Hey, I invented this word," or "I think we should add this word." Even if you are a third grader who writes a very cute, plaintive letter. Sorry, but that's not how it works. Kory: Those are the worst letters, too, because we have to write back and say "no,: which is, you know...I mean. Steve: Who wants to to shatter the dreams of a third grader? Kory: Yeah. We are basically just autonomous thesauruses, but we still do have feelings. We don't like hurting other people's feelings. The way that words get in generally is through usage. Not usage as in, like, "I'm writing a dictionary and I've used the word now in print once, and so, enter it," but sort of sustained and widespread usage. And, generally, written usage, which is kind of a bugbear, but that's what we got. Steve: It also depends on the kind of word: you know, what realm it is, what category it falls into. Some words--and these are in the vast minority--have a very easy path. So if you are a scientist who has a synthesized a new chemical element, you and your team get to name that, and as long as the governing board approves it, that's the name. And you know what? In it goes, because the people in charge said so. So tennessine, for example, which was synthesized by researchers in several universities in the state of Tennessee, [they] named element 117 that. And uh, there you go. That's all you need. Kory: Tennessine? Steve: Tennessine. Kory: T-e-n-n-e-s-s-i-n-e? How do you spell it? Steve: [Chumley the Walrus voice] That's right, Charlie. Kory: [laughter] The amazing thing is that I just spelled that aloud, and I can't actually spell aloud. Steve: And that was a Chumley the Walrus imitation. I'm dating myself there. [Chumley the Walrus voice] Sorry, Tennessee. Kory: Alright, so usage. I said "written usage" and this is a bugbear. But the reason that we use written usage is it's a standard way that we can do it. So why don't we take spoken usage? Because that's actually that's how words get created first, is usually in speech. They usually don't get written down first. Steve: The words that are used in the spoken vernacular are completely 100 percent valid. And there are outfits out there that track this type of thing. Corpuses, which are large collections of words. There's some corpuses that compile a written documentation and other ones that compile samples of recorded speech. Dictionaries, however, tend to focus on words that have been written. Generally, but not always, and more so in the past than now. Not just written, but from edited sources. Kory: Yeah. Edited, prose sources. So poetry doesn't really count, because you can use a word with a really nonstandard meaning in poetry--or with no meaning in poetry, you can just use it for sound. But the part of the reason that's difficult is because we now have access to more transcripts of spoken English, and the problem with that as a lexicographer is, it's really actually hard to transcribe a word you've never heard before from speech into print. You can misspell it, you can mishear it. You can not understand the context. So. That's one of the reasons why we focus on written, edited English. Though the "edited," even that's kind of going away these days. Steve: More and more, you will see references to things in blog posts which aren't always edited, or even, you know, the comment section, or that kind of thing. And as to the spoken ones, you can phonological determine the phonemes that are used. But if you were transcrib
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