The Ways of Language: A Reader

Last week I got kicked in the pants by a linguistic celebrity. What happened was that at Andy’s 24th birthday party, 2 guys talking about their difficulty in finding suits their sizes were forced to talk to me by Andy. (I who was being forced to constantly drink more champagne.) I forced the conversation to linguistics as I do, and one of the smartly-dressed chaps suggested I email any famous important linguistics person I could think of in the world and ask for advice. Well I did, and I expected a surrogate response or a cokkie cutter statement but NO, Erin McKean the editor of the New Oxford American Dictionary and all-around good American lexicographer, WROTE BACK… TWICE. It was almost too much to take.
Anyhow she suggested that more than having a job in the industry or taking specific classes what I should really be doing is keeping up on Historical Linguistics literature. I almost jumped out the door to buy some big happy books when I realized I already have 8 that I’ve tried to start and then lost motivation for. “If you think it will be hard to motivate yourself to do the reading set yourself a public goal and blog your progress,” said the mighty lexicographer. And so I am.

I’m beginning with Raymond Pflug’s “The Ways of Language: A Reader” that my mother bought for me in New York. It’s small and green from 1967, a collection of essays on various topics, it’s the perfect place to start and I only chose it randomly by bothering my boyfriend into choosing a number between 1 and 8. good job boyfriend!

It’s a great review of things I’ve learned in beginning Linguistics, philosophy of linguistics, and history of english classes. There is one fabulously dated passage which reads:

Currently, dictionary men are wrestling with such terms as “exurbanite, “duopoly,” “musicology,” “medic,” “litterbug,” “hard-top,” “elasticize,” desegregation,” “egghead,” “tranquilizer,” and “paperback.” Are these words?

I love several things about this passage, the first being ‘dictionary men.’ Was women writing dictionaries not allowed or was it before the extreme sensitivity to pronouns was put in the front of so many minds? It’s so MadMen I adore it. Another thing is that when I read recent articles, or when Grant Barrett mentions a list of new slang words on A Way with Words and wonders which will endure and which will fall out of use, you get the feeling you know which will stick around, but with that list of 11 words, so many of them surviving slang status for 40 years, I just can’t say what’s coming next. And ‘tranquilizer’ is that young?

I’m happy for the kick in the pants. It’s got me on the move. Updates as they come.

September 2, 2008

in Books,dictionaries,Words & Origins

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