Monday Feb. 1, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Oxford English Dictionary
On this Day:
In 1884, the 1st volume of the Oxford English Dictionary, A-Ant, was published.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is the principal historical dictionary of the English language, published by Oxford University Press (OUP). It traces the historical development of the English language, providing a comprehensive resource to scholars and academic researchers, as well as describing usage in its many variations throughout the world. The second edition, comprising 21,728 pages in 20 volumes, was published in 1989.
Work began on the dictionary in 1857, but it was only in 1884 that it began to be published in unbound fascicles as work continued on the project, under the name of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by The Philological Society. In 1895 the title The Oxford English Dictionary was first used unofficially on the covers of the series, and in 1928 the full dictionary was republished in ten bound volumes. In 1933 the title The Oxford English Dictionary fully replaced the former name in all occurrences in its reprinting as twelve volumes with a one-volume supplement. More supplements came over the years until 1989, when the second edition was published. Since 2000, compilation of a third edition of the dictionary has been underway, approximately half of which was complete as of 2018.
The first electronic version of the dictionary was made available in 1988. The online version has been available since 2000, and as of April 2014 was receiving over two million visits per month. The third edition of the dictionary most likely will appear only in electronic form; the Chief Executive of Oxford University Press has stated that it is unlikely that it will ever be printed.
The first dictionary fascicle was published on 1 February 1884. The full title was A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by The Philological Society; the 352-page volume, words from A to ant, cost 12s 6d. 251. The total sales were only 4,000 copies.
British prime minister Stanley Baldwin described the OED as a “national treasure”. Author Anu Garg, founder of Wordsmith.org, has called it a “lex icon”. Tim Bray, co-creator of Extensible Markup Language (XML), credits the OED as the developing inspiration of that markup language.
However, despite, and at the same time precisely because of, its claims of authority, the dictionary has been criticized since at least the 1960s from various angles. It has become a target precisely because of its scope, its claims to authority, its British-centredness and relative neglect of World Englishes, its implied but not acknowledged focus on literary language and, above all, its influence. The OED, as a commercial product, has always had to manoeuvre a thin line between PR, marketing and scholarship and one can argue that its biggest problem is the critical uptake of the work by the interested public.
In his review of the 1982 supplement, University of Oxford linguist Roy Harris writes that criticizing the OED is extremely difficult because “one is dealing not just with a dictionary but with a national institution”, one that “has become, like the English monarchy, virtually immune from criticism in principle”. He further notes that neologisms from respected “literary” authors such as Samuel Beckett and Virginia Woolf are included, whereas usage of words in newspapers or other less “respectable” sources hold less sway, even though they may be commonly used. He writes that the OED’s “[b]lack-and-white lexicography is also black-and-white in that it takes upon itself to pronounce authoritatively on the rights and wrongs of usage”, faulting the dictionary’s prescriptive rather than descriptive usage. To Harris, this prescriptive classification of certain usages as “erroneous” and the complete omission of various forms and usages cumulatively represent the “social bias[es]” of the (presumably well-educated and wealthy) compilers. However, the identification of “erroneous and catachrestic” usages is being removed from third edition entries, sometimes in favour of usage notes describing the attitudes to language which have previously led to these classifications.
Harris also faults the editors’ “donnish conservatism” and their adherence to prudish Victorian morals, citing as an example the non-inclusion of “various centuries-old ‘four-letter words'” until 1972. However, no English dictionary included such words, for fear of possible prosecution under British obscenity laws, until after the conclusion of the Lady Chatterley’s Lover obscenity trial in 1960. The first dictionary to include the word fuck was the Penguin English Dictionary of 1965. Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary had included shit in 1905.
The OED’s claims of authority have also been questioned by linguists such as Pius ten Hacken, who notes that the dictionary actively strives towards definitiveness and authority but can only achieve those goals in a limited sense, given the difficulties of defining the scope of what it includes.
Founding editor James Murray was also reluctant to include scientific terms, despite their documentation, unless he felt that they were widely enough used. In 1902, he declined to add the word “radium” to the dictionary (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
\ ˈpən \
Definition of pun
Wielded by anyone but a true master, a pun is the lowest form of humor. However, wielded by a master, a pun is the highest, purest form of humor possible by humans.
Puns are a dark art, much like necromancy. Raising the dead will get you killed. Raising a pun with your killer sense of humor will get you killed, making it a grave mistake, even if you were dead serious.
Second, a Song:
Alfred Matthew “Weird Al” Yankovic, born October 23, 1959, is an American musician, record producer, actor, and author who is known for humorous songs that make light of pop culture and often parody specific songs by contemporary musical acts. He also performs original songs that are style pastiches of the work of other acts, as well as polka medleys of several popular songs, most of which feature his trademark accordion.
Since having a comedy song aired in 1976, Yankovic has sold more than 12 million albums (as of 2007), recorded more than 150 parody and original songs, and performed more than 1,000 live shows. His work has earned him five Grammy Awards and a further 11 nominations, four gold records, and six platinum records in the U.S. His first top ten Billboard album (Straight Outta Lynwood) and single (“White & Nerdy”) were both released in 2006, nearly three decades into his career. His latest album, Mandatory Fun (2014), became his first No. 1 album during its debut week.
Yankovic’s success comes in part from his effective use of music videos to further parody pop culture, the song’s original artist, and the original music videos themselves, scene-for-scene in some cases. He directed later videos himself and went on to direct for other artists, including Ben Folds, Hanson, The Black Crowes, and The Presidents of the United States of America. With the decline of music television and the onset of social media, he used YouTube and other video sites to publish his videos; this strategy helped to boost sales of his later albums. He has stated that he may forgo traditional albums in favor of timely releases of singles from the 2010s onwards.
In addition to recording his albums, Yankovic wrote and starred in the film UHF (1989) and the television series The Weird Al Show (1997). He has also made guest appearances and performed voice acting roles on many television shows and video web content, in addition to starring in Al TV specials on MTV. He has also written two children’s books, When I Grow Up (2011) and My New Teacher and Me! (2013).
“Word Crimes” is a song from Weird Al’s fourteenth studio album, Mandatory Fun (2014). The song is a parody of the 2013 single “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, featuring Pharrell Williams and T.I. The song spoofs misuse of proper English grammar and usage, reflecting Yankovic’s own rigor for proper syntax and semantics. Yankovic chose a topic that would be distinct from those used in many pre-existing parodies, and that would avoid the misogyny issues that had arisen from the source material.
“Word Crimes” received favorable reviews from contemporary music critics, with some describing it as a highlight of Mandatory Fun. The song’s music video utilizes kinetic typography, and was compared to the earlier educational Schoolhouse Rock! musical cartoons. The song peaked at number 39 on the Billboard Hot 100, granting Yankovic his fourth and last Top 40 hit, making him only the third artist in history (alongside Michael Jackson and Madonna) to have a top 40 hit in every decade since the 1980s (per Wikipedia).
Here is Weird Al Yankovic performing Word Crimes. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“The word ‘romance,’ according to the dictionary, means excitement, adventure, and something extremely real. Romance should last a lifetime.” – Billy Graham
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky