Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Letter in response to "Cyber-Neologoliferation" -- NY Times

Here's the letter I wrote in response to this article (which was never published):
I was struck by the recent article on the development of the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. I was impressed by the degree to which the curators of this dictionary are embracing modern, computerized search in addition to manual annotation. The parallels between making a lexicon of all the English words and the way scientists are annotating the genes in many genomes being sequenced are quite striking. In both cases, people are looking for where it (word or gene) first appeared and how it's varied in usage across many different contexts. One crucial difference, however, is in the gene annotation business, researchers are very interested in how often a gene is duplicated or how common it is. I feel that people should probably do the same in relation to the OED, tabulating words by their frequency of usage. In a rough fashion, this can simply be done by looking at some statistics, such as the number of "Google hits" for a given term.
Published: November 5, 2006
When I got to John Simpson and his band of lexicographers in Oxford earlier this
fall, they were working on the P's. Pletzel, plish, pod person, point-and-shoot,
polyamorous — these words were all new, one way or another. They had been
plowing through the P's for two years but were almost done (except that they'll
never be done), and the Q's will be "just a twinkle of an eye," Simpson said. He
prizes patience and the long view. A pale, soft-spoken man of middle height and
profound intellect, he is chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary and sees
himself as a steward of tradition dating back a century and a half....

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