The closest I’ve ever come to glimpsing hell was several years ago, reading an article in the New York Times, entitled “Justices Turning More Frequently to Dictionary, and Not Just for Big Words.” The article cited the example of a certain Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. who had apparently parsed the meaning of a federal law by consulting the usual legal precedents (X vs Y) — and no less than five dictionaries. One of the words he looked up was “of”. He discovered, lo and behold, that its meaning had something to do with belonging or possession.
Dictionaries lie at the core of the human ability to conceptualize, systematize and convey meaning. But they are hardly positivistic, objective repositories of knowledge or truth about language, let alone life.
Continue reading Legacy Dictionaries Reloaded: Why Should We Bother?
When working on the Deutsches Wörterbuch, Jacob Grimm felt depressed by his life as a lexicographer. In the preface to the first volume, published in 1854, Jacob wrote:
“As if for days fine and tight flakes were falling down from the sky and soon the whole area is covered with vast snow I am quasi snowed in under the mass of words pressing towards me from all corners and crevices. Sometimes I want to get up and get rid of everything.”
Dorothea Grimm, his brother’s wife, observed Jacob and Wilhelm anxiously. They have to be liberated, otherwise they will get mouldy, she thought, watching them work on the dictionary from the early morning until late at night.
Continue reading From Books to Bytes: Turning Paper Dictionaries into Digital Format
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Featured image: CC-BY Dean Hochman