Saturday, March 12, 2016

Male hierarchies and the making of big, swinging dictionaries

Here we learn that the making of dictionaries is a profoundly political act.

This will come as no surprise to acolytes of Dr Johnson, whose 1755 compilation of the English tongue includes these perfectly neutral definitions:
Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people. 
Pastern: The knee of a horse. (This is wrong. When Johnson was once asked how he came to make such a mistake, Boswell tells us he replied, "Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance.")
Lewis Carroll underscored the point 150 years ago, when he had Humpty Dumpty mansplain (egg-splain?) to Alice:
'I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said. 
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't — till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"' 
'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected. 
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.' 
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.' 
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

No comments:

Post a Comment

We enjoy hearing from visitors! Please leave your questions, thoughts, wish lists, or whatever else is on your mind.