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The Making of The American Heritage Book ofEnglish Usage Joseph Pickett It has become an established business practice, indeed a necessity for survival, for dictionary publishers to capitalize on their existing resources in a highly competitive marketplace. Under pressure to please financial analysts and shareholders, publishing executives must find ways to increase revenue without making large investments, and in this light, dictionary databases seem like ideal material for producing derivative products. The dictionary database is viewed as a prime resource , containing within it many potential products that can be tailored to specific markets at various price levels by making extracts of desired entries that require only cursory editorial effort before being sent to the compositor. Although editors will grant that the dictionaries they have made are valuable resources, they often find themselves having to explain that making a marketable spinoff requires considerably more investment, mainly in editorial effort, than had been imagined by their corporate leadership. Although the idea of generating new revenue from a company 's existing intellectual properties sounds like a fairly new enterprise , dictionary publishers have really been making spinoffs for a long time. I think most commercial dictionary departments had already produced entire lines of such works long before they began using computers . The paperback dictionary might have been the first of these, but in the 1970s and 1980s dictionary departments produced dictionaries for children at various levels, dictionaries for the office products market, vest-pocket dictionaries, large-print dictionaries, notebook dictionaries, and related books like thesauruses and guides to good writing. Making a book on English usage was one of a variety of derivative projects that had been proposed at Houghton Mifflin over the pre- 148Joseph Pickett vious decade. In fact the idea had been suggested several times during my tenure beginning in 1989. It was a logical step for us — The American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) has a long-standing reputation for addressing usage issues, and it only made sense to try to build on this reputation by producing a useful stand-alone volume. The only circumstance that prevented us in the past was the fact that our staff at Houghton Mifflin was busy creating or reediting a number of other spinoff products, such as our College dictionary and our dictionary for middle-school students. But we finally decided to undertake such a bookin^o.1 The first question for us was: What kind of book should we make? I wanted to make a book that covered traditional usage issues and provided information and advice that I knew from my days as a writing teacher at the University of Michigan needed to be repeated. I also saw the opportunity to include information from the usage ballots we had conducted since the publication of the Third Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary (AHD3) in 1992. Finally I wanted to bring to the genre of usage books more enthusiasm for the language. I wanted to convey some of my own amazement at how complicated, versatile , various, and beautiful the English language is and some of my own appreciation for the history of the language — dimensions of the language not normally given much attention in usage books. I cannot say I approached this material with enormous enthusiasm for the genre. There are many things about the tradition of usage commentary that I dislike. The books tend to belabor a simplistic insistence on following rules. They often convey an eye-winking condescend í should be noted that The American Heritage Book ofEnglish Usage is not the first book on usage to make use of the opinions of a panel. Sterling Leonard published the first, Current English Usage, in 1932. Raymond Crisp conducted his own surveys for his dissertation, "Changes in Attitudes Toward English Usage," completed in 1971. In 1975 William and Mary Morris produced The Harper Dictionary of Contemporary English, which reported the results of usage ballots similar to those used in making the first edition of the AHD, on which William Morris served as editor in chief. In fact many of the Harper panelists served, and some continue to serve, on the panel of the AHD. The Morrises' book is thus derived in method at least from the AHD...


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pp. 147-157
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