Mighty Red Pen

October 18, 2010

In the clutch of style

Filed under: Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 6:53 pm
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Here’s a sweet little tidbit from the Etsy shop of Peppermint Designs. This clutch purse made from a fabric based on the Oxford Dictionary is the very definition of style, wouldn’t you say?

H/t to @Fritinancy and @FakeErinMcKean.


June 10, 2010

When thesauruses roamed the Earth

Filed under: Lit review — mighty red pen @ 7:18 pm
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My colleagues and I were discussing those book prizes that colleges and universities give to high school students. One colleague, who recently attended one of these ceremonies at his child’s high school where such book prizes are awarded, said that many of the books were dictionaries or thesauruses. This led to a discussion: In this day and age, when you can look definitions up on the Internet or use the dictionary/synonym finder built into your word-processing program, are hard copies of these types of reference books irrelevant?

I use my hard copy of the American Heritage Dictionary regularly, but my colleagues all felt there wasn’t much need for hard copy reference books. What do you think?

Hat tip to the Mighty Quinn (no relation to MRP) for this little tidbit, found here.

January 22, 2010

Websterogenous zones

Filed under: Lit review — mighty red pen @ 8:27 pm
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When I first read about the California school distract that removed copies of the Merriam-Webster dictionary in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms because it contains an entry for oral sex, it seemed kind of snicker-worthy. But the more I thought about it, the more annoyed I became. According to The Press Enterprise:

After a parent complained about an elementary school student stumbling across “oral sex” in a classroom dictionary, Menifee Union School District officials decided to pull Merriam Webster’s 10th edition from all school shelves earlier this week.

School officials will review the dictionary to decide if it should be permanently banned because of the “sexually graphic” entry, said district spokeswoman Betti Cadmus. The dictionaries were initially purchased a few years ago for fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms districtwide, according to a memo to the superintendent.

“It’s hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we’ll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature,” Cadmus said. She explained that other dictionary entries defining human anatomy would probably not be cause for alarm.

“It’s just not age appropriate,” said Cadmus, adding that this is the first time a book has been removed from classrooms throughout the district.

Well, apparently the dictionary is bringing sexy back these days. I immediately went to Merriam-Webster to see what this racy entry was all about.

It turns out the aforementioned graphic description is “oral stimulation of the genitals” and further refers you to (avert your eyes!) cunnilingus and fellatio. Well, gee whiz, sounds downright pornographic, doesn’t it?

I don’t want to downplay the panic in Menifee but okay, well, I do. I find it kind of hilarious that they think that kids (or anyone for that matter) are being corrupted by reading the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The dictionary. Heaven forfend that a parent of a 9 or 10 year old should use it as a teachable moment if their kid comes across a term such as oral sex when they are searching the dictionary for the definitions between oracular and ornamental

I hardly think we should be standing in the way of kids getting proper information about s-e-x, and any youngster who is intrepid enough to look in the dictionary to find out what it’s all about shouldn’t be dissuaded from educating themselves. It’s not as though Merriam-Webster is some kind of gateway porn. Today the dictionary, tomorrow Penthouse Forum!

H/t @EditorMark and @emckean.

November 16, 2009

Don’t make me unfriend you

Filed under: Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 6:48 pm
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The Word of the Year parade makes a stop at the New Oxford American Dictionary, which named unfriend (as in “If you don’t stop writing annoying comments on my Facebook wall, I will unfriend you”) as its top pick for 2009.

According to senior lexicographer Christine Lindberg:

It has both currency and potential longevity. In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year. Most “un-” prefixed words are adjectives (unacceptable, unpleasant), and there are certainly some familiar “un-” verbs (uncap, unpack), but “unfriend” is different from the norm. It assumes a verb sense of “friend” that is really not used (at least not since maybe the 17th century!).

Here’s my question though: As a Facebook user, I rarely unfriend (or defriend) people, but I friend others and am friended all the time (okay, maybe I exaggerate a little bit). Given the criteria that’s been outlined, isn’t there a much more compelling case for friend as the word of the year?

Oddly enough, many of the words that didn’t have the same “lex-appeal” bear a remarkable resemblance to MRP’s Top Ten Words I’d Vote Off the Island in a Heartbeat:

intexticated – distracted because texting on a cellphone while driving a vehicle

sexting – the sending of sexually explicit texts and pictures by cellphone

birther – a conspiracy theorist who challenges President Obama’s birth certificate

death panel – a theoretical body that determines which patients deserve to live, when care is rationed

And possibly my favorite, because it’s the most ridiculous and I love the idea of a bunch of lexicographers sitting around discussing it in all seriousness:

tramp stamp – a tattoo on the lower back, usually on a woman

See the rest of the nominees here.

October 18, 2009

If Dictionary Day falls in the forest . . .

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Lit review,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 9:12 am
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I love the dictionary, really I do. Remember that scene from “Say Anything” when Lloyd Dobler discovers that Diane Court underlines all the words she has to look up in her dictionary? And this is some kind of proof of her nerdishness? Well, I blushed a little at that scene because, um, I did that, too.

But despite showing lifelong love and appreciation for the dictionary, I have a tiny confession to make: I knew it was Dictionary Day on October 16 (Noah Webster’s birthday, natch) and I meant to mention it, I swear, but it kind of slipped my mind. I mean, I used my dictionary on Dictionary Day, but I’m guessing that doesn’t count.

But apparently, according to Erin McKean, I’m in good company:

Dictionary Day—also known as Noah Webster’s Birthday—was Oct. 16, and throughout the English-speaking world, small children placed their dictionary stands by the hearthstone, hoping that Noah himself would magically come down the chimney and leave them a shiny new dictionary (left open to the word “dictionary,” of course). In some places, Dictionary Day is celebrated with bonfires of the past years’ dictionaries, the baking of the traditional aardvark-shaped cookies, and the singing of etymology carols.

No? That didn’t happen in your household? I’m a lexicographer, and it didn’t happen in mine, either.
Worldwide ambivalence to the idea of Dictionary Day aside, McKean isn’t letting us off the hook on this one:
So we should expand our thinking about dictionaries. Language is power—we understand that words can move us to tears or laughter, inspire us to great deeds or urge us to mob action. Dictionaries are the democratization of that power, and the more words they contain, the more democratic they are. The dictionary is a gigantic armory and toolbox combined, accessible to all. It reflects our preoccupations, collects our cultural knowledge, and gives us adorable pictures of aardvarks, to boot. And it does all this one word at a time.
Read the rest of “Cel•e•brate: The Case for Dictionary Day,” McKean’s call to arms for a more robust celebration of the day. Er, maybe it’s not too soon to start planning for next year?

July 3, 2009

Just visualize it

Filed under: Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 7:28 pm
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So readers, you are all familiar with Visual Thesaurus, yes? (If you are not, familiarize yourself!) Now check out Shahi, “a visual dictionary that combines Wiktionary content with Flickr images, and more!”

February 25, 2009

Not your mother’s book report

Filed under: Lit review,Uncategorized,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 7:49 pm
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Hat tip: Married to the Sea.

July 10, 2008

Free your Lady Mondegreen

Filed under: Pop culture,Word wars,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 7:25 pm
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Well, thank goodness. We can finally use the words infinity pool, edamame, and dirty bomb, and rest easy knowing that the good people at Merriam Webster have given these and a few other lucky words their blessing.

How do they choose the new words? Well according to “Hold the prosecco, and pass the edamame“:

“As soon as we see the word used without explanation or translation or gloss, we consider it a naturalized citizen of the English language,” said Peter Sokolowski, an editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster. “If somebody is using it to convey a specific idea and that idea is successfully conveyed in that word, it’s ready to go in the dictionary.”

Among the new words of interest to MRP? Well, as a pescatarian, I was happy to see that finally make the cut. What’s a pescatarian, you ask? It’s a vegetarian who eats fish, or better, a person who maintains a mostly vegetarian diet but also eats fish.

However, I’ve been testing the word out on a few people and when I say, “I’m a pescatarian,” I am mostly met with blank stares and have to say, “I’m a vegetarian that eats fish” anyway. So I think that pescatarian needs some work still.

Another is mondegreen, a word for a word which is mistaken for another word. Misheard song lyrics fall under this category. Who (besides our friends at Language is the People’s and SPOGG) knew there was an actual word for this?

A mondegreen most often comes from misunderstood phrases or lyrics. It comes from an old Scottish ballad in which the lyric “laid him on the green” has been confused over time with “Lady Mondegreen.”

Merriam Webster is so tickled by this concept that apparently they’ll be having a contest for this, so that’s something to look forward to.

We’ve covered mondegreens here at MRP before but it’s always good for a chuckle.  I always thought they were singing “Free your Lady Marmalade” but apparently it’s “Creole Lady Marmalade.” Oh yeah, that makes more sense. Also, MRP gets endless amusement at Mister MRP’s expense out of pretending that the Style Council’s “Shout to the Top” really is saying “Shop ’til you drop!” (I swear it sounded like it at first.)

Another favorite mondegreen at la casa de MRP right now comes to us courtesy of D., age 28 months, who is quite sure it’s not “another postcard with chimpanzees” but “another postcard with pinzanees.” He’s sure of it.

Got a good one? Feel free to share.

June 9, 2008

Just visualize it

Filed under: Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 7:58 pm
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Possibly the coolest thing I have seen all week: Visuwords.

Calls itself an “online graphical dictionary and thesaurus.” You can look up a word and you’ll get a graph that shows you the word’s meaning(s) and the way it associates with other words or concepts. Some cool interactive stuff lets you see definitions and move different “nodes” around.

They explain:

Visuwords™ uses Princeton University’s WordNet, an opensource database built by University students and language researchers. Combined with a visualization tool and user interface built from a combination of modern web technologies, Visuwords™ is available as a free resource to all patrons of the web.

For example, the word grammar:

Go to Visuwords to check out the interactivity of it. Like I said, coolest thing all week.

Hat tip to David.

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