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Why It Isn't There: Practical Constraints on the Recording of Neologisms Michael Agnes v^ommercial lexicographers, especially those responsible for compiling college dictionaries, are accustomed to receiving irate letters from concerned readers on the topic of "missing words." The level of outrage induced when a reader does not find a favorite word between the covers is often difficult to credit—matched only by that somehow more understandable ire occasioned by the finding of a vulgarism or disputed usage enshrined without sufficient sanction. Some of the false assumptions such readers hold as to how new words find their way into the pages of the latest revision of a 1 ,600-page dictionary may be shared even by those much closer to the business of commercial lexicography. Hence this contribution to the forum. The processes leading to the addition of a new entry are well documented: the house reading program collects citations, the citations are evaluated to identify prospective new entries, new entries are drafted and refined, and at some point the lemma paragraph is set in type and appears on a printed page. What has not been well described are the constraints of commercial lexicography that delay, prevent, or otherwise impede the appearance of new words in a college dictionary . In brief, the "how" is known, but the "why-one-word-and-notanother " is not. Types of revision In the United States, college dictionaries go through two radically different types of revision: full-scale, from-the-ground-up, A-to-Z 46Michael Agnes revisions that result in totally new editions; and intermediate updates that consist of a limited number of discrete changes to individual pages scattered throughout the work. The former are made every ten to twenty years and are accompanied by large-scale marketing campaigns (now typically with a budget exceeding $1 million) to help sell the work; the latter may appear every one, two, or five years and are usually reticently announced by a change in date on the copyright page. The differences in the two types of revision result in very different kinds of coverage of neologisms. Full revisions afford the compiler the type of editorial freedom that every dictionary editor wants: the entries chosen, new or old, need only fit into the number of pages chosen for the edition. If the book's page count allows, say, 160,000 entries, 5 percent of which are neologisms (or at least entries unrecorded in the last copyright revision of the previous edition), then the editors have the freedom to select the 8,000 neologisms deemed most appropriate according to the house's selection criteria. That the entire book will be recomposed from the first page allows this sort of even-handed editorial treatment. It does not matter where a new entry falls on the page or where in the alphabetical sequence it appears. The new work is (or should be) all of an editorial piece, despite the fact that the final stage of compilation may extend over a period of four or more years. Given such freedom, a totally new edition of a college dictionary is open to critical scrutiny with respect to coverage of the relatively new words that have entered the language. In a new edition a reader should expect to find the important, high-frequency neologisms that are the hallmark of an up-to-date work. Intermediate updates Intermediate updates in copyright are conducted between fullscale revisions and are done on a page-by-page basis. These updates operate under constraints of time, money, and, above all, space. Thus, only a very few of the neologisms considered worthwhile are entered for such copyright updates, and a dictionary updated in this way deserves to be judged differently with respect to the neologisms it covers. Between full revisions staff time must be used effectively to revise secondary works in the publisher's line and to compile totally new dictionaries, activities that never cease. This allocation of editor- Practical Constraints on the Recording of Neologisms47 ial resources is one of the reasons for the relatively long revision cycles between totally new editions. Revisions of any sort are expensive. Any page containing a new entry (or even one changed...


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