Sunday, January 26, 2014


The author of the The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester, must have done a lot of research that didn't make it into the first book about the origin of the OED, because he has written a follow-up book, The Meaning of Everything. This appears to be a modus operandi, because in finding a link for those two books, I see that he has written other books that are followed by similar books. Waste not, want not, I guess. I'm not one to cavil, especially since I'm enjoying the book and the price was right, free, for an audio version through Overdrive.
One of the things that makes the OED different from some dictionaries is that it's descriptive as opposed to prescriptive. That is, they describe how people use and have used words instead of telling them how they should use them. That's a characteristic of the language itself, unlike say, French where the Academie Francaise specifies what is French and what is merely American or gibberish. So, in that spirit, although I used to cavil, I'm going to try and let it go. If enough people think that "begging the question," means "inviting the question," then it does. If people want to use, "me," and "myself," interchangeably let them. And adverbs, why do we even need them? Slow children at play can look out for themselves. If I'm my own Boswell, having to tell you myself every little bon mot I think of, then we've all become our own Humpty Dumptys:
 "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."
    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. "They've a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they're the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That's what I say!"
So, that. In other news, the media are filled with stories of the Polar Vortex, but here it has been ridiculously warm. I suppose the fact that the news is making such a big deal of winter weather, in the winter, is a sign that climate change is really happening. If it was always cold in the winter, like it used to be, it wouldn't be news.

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