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Problems in New-Word Lexicography John Algeo .Had lexicographers but world enough and time, they would no doubt include in their dictionaries every lexical item ever used by any speaker or writer of English, with all recoverable information about each item. To be sure, such a dictionary would be more than most users want. The users of a particular dictionary obviously have needs that circumscribe the appropriate contents of that book. But within such user-oriented limitations, the impossible dream of the lexicographer is exhaustive comprehensiveness—a complete listing of all lexical items with complete information about each. This dream of a full accounting for lexis is a mystical vision of the linguistic plenum. As Dr. Johnson observed in his melancholy way, such visions are "the dreams of a poet doomed at last to wake a lexicographer." The jangling alarm that wakes the lexicographer is the sound of "Time's winged chariot hurrying near," driven by some soulless accountant who cares for the bottom line and not at all for the main entry. The lexicographer 's bitter task is selection—deciding what to include and what to leave out. And his lot is therefore not a happy one. The problem of selection is particularly keen in new-word lexicography , where it has two aspects: the definition of what a new word is and the decisions of which new words to include and of what to say about them. The problem of definition—deciding what is new and what is not—is especially troublesome in new-word glossaries. The problem of inclusion, on the other hand, is general: the editor of every new or revised dictionary is faced with the need to make decisions about which new words, however defined, will be included and which omitted. In these remarks I propose to examine some of the questions that need to be answered in deciding about inclusion. The aim is not to provide answers, which must in any case depend on purposes, re- 40 ___ John Algeo sources, and the bottom line. Robert Burchfield (1989, 105) defined his policy in editing the OED Supplement (OEDS) as follows: "The main governing factor in the choice of words to be treated is the editability of a given item in the time available and with the resources at my disposal ." That is a practical answer, taking into account Time's winged chariot and its soulless charioteer, but it does not tell how priorities are decided. The aim here is to identify issues that bear upon the priorities. What are the factors that guide the lexicographer's decision, wherever the bottom line may be drawn? The examples used to illustrate the questions are drawn from three dictionaries published during the past two years: Random House Webster's College Dictionary, 1991 (RHWCD); The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3d ed., 1992 (AHD3); and Merriam-Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary, 10th ed., 1993 (WlO); and from two periodical records of neology: The Barnhart Dictionary Companion (BDC) and American Speech's "Among the New Words" (ANW). The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., on compact disk, 1992 (OED2CD), has also been checked for these items, and the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), 1985-, has been consulted for appropriate items. In all, 1 1 questions are asked. The first question will be examined in some detail, and the remaining ones more superficially. Yet other questions are obviously possible and appropriate. QUESTION 1: When does an expression that is grammatically predictable become lexicalized and thus deserving of dictionary entry? The recently popular (and controversial) term politically correct is an example. There are entries for it in the RHWCD, WlO, and the BDC. The RHWCD definition both applies the term specifically to the political left and identifies the areas of discourse to which it applies: "marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy on issues involving esp. race, gender, sexual affinity, or ecology." (Incidentally, the expression sexual affinity used in that definition as a politically correct term for homosexuality contrasted with heterosexuality is not defined in the RHWCD, although it is by no means analytical or transparent .) The WlO definition specifies the areas of discourse in which the term is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 39-46
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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