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American Speech 75.4 (2000) 370-372

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Prospects in Lexicography

Reflections In Lexicography

David K. Barnhart, Lexik House


The first vivid recollection I have of lexicography is as a youngster standing at my father's elbow next to a Linotype machine as my name was readied for stamping on my very own copy of The American College Dictionary in 1947. That memory is followed by one of sitting with several speckled four-by-six-inch boxes containing quotation slips among which I interfiled new quotations. I recall the horribly sick feeling in my stomach when several of these boxes fell, spilling their contents down a flight of stairs. That was in the 1950s, a time I also recall hand-cranking a Ditto machine and collating sheets of manuscript for editors to work over.

In 1966 I went to work for Clarence L. Barnhart, Inc., as an editor-in-training on the Throndike-Barnhart dictionaries. My first assignments were proofreading (it never seemed to end). In other early assignments I compared source material with current editions of manuscript by underlining in different colors the differences in wording. I remember colored pencils and pens being used to designate new material from a particular source. However, purple was reserved for Clarence Barnhart. Anyone changing purple manuscript had to have a good reason and be prepared to defend it. [End Page 370]

In the late 1960s my first sorties into new words began with reading magazines and newspapers for new words for the annual updating of The World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary (1966). Shortly after that, work began on The Barnhart Dictionary of New English since 1963 (1973). That was my first experience working with a blank page. The focus of this work was the reporting of new words and meanings not recorded in dictionaries. This marked the beginning of a mad scramble that led to The Second Barnhart Dictionary of New English (1980).

Not long thereafter I started my own company--Lexik House. About a year later, while sitting on the verandah at my father's house, he asked me what my next project would be. I said it was to sell as many copies as I could of the Dictionary of Bahamian English (Holm and Schilling 1982) I had just published. "After that?" he asked. I didn't have a firm idea. He said, "What about the new words newsletter?" He had floated that idea 20 years earlier, but it didn't go anywhere. My reaction was, "You write it and I'll publish it." Thus was born The Barnhart Dictionary Companion (Barnhart 1982-), a quarterly devoted to new words, new meanings, and changes in usage.

Since 1982, I have feverishly pursued new words, new meanings, and changes in usage that have not been recorded in general dictionaries. When Lexik House began this project, lexicographical procedure was very much as it had been for a century, the improvements in typewriters notwithstanding. Researchers read magazines and newspapers for candidate entries. Quotation slips were prepared and assembled in alphabetical order. In 1983 that approach was dramatically changed. It was then that we subscribed, not without anxiety, to Nexis--a large data bank of full-text newspaper and magazine articles. This computerized resource allowed us to follow hunches. Before the advent of computers, the following of unsubstantiated speculations was more often than not prohibitively time-consuming. The new resource allowed us to double again and yet again the number of lexical items we could report on in the Dictionary Companion. Anyone's speculations, ramblings, or commentary in the press or elsewhere could be tested for validity.

In the mid-1980s Thomas L. Clark, in searching for a publisher for his dictionary project--The Dictionary of Gambling and Gaming (1987)--was directed to Lexik House. He and I had talked about that project whenever our paths crossed at meetings of the American Dialect Society or the Modern Language Association or the National Council of Teachers of English. Clark's project was also testing the new world of electronic research, for he had been laboriously recording data on his Kaypro since the inception...


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pp. 370-372
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Archived 2005
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