Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of
The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of "Proper" English, from Shakespeare to South Park 

"Words, words, words." - Hamlet

Thus Hamlet answered Polonius' question as to what he was reading. Our reading can range from the sublimity of Beckett's arid yet vivid prose to the Rabelaisian abundance of words, bordering on the ridiculous, that one finds in books like Infinite Jest. In The Lexicographer's Dilemma, an all too short book considering the subject, Jack Lynch attempts an history of the English language - a history of words. His focus is on what is considered "proper" English and who gets to say what words are in or out. He discusses the rules that have been developed over the years and investigates their history. In doing so he discovers that behind every word is a human shadow in the form of a story about people who shaped our language. In the realm of dictionaries the most influential person chronicled is James A. H. Murray, but Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster also have leading roles. Many others including scientists like Joseph Priestley, poets like John Dryden, dramatists such as Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw and many others all have a contribute to this history. I found the journey through history enjoyable primarily because I am an omnivorous reader who would respond to Polonius' question just as Hamlet did with the response -- Words, words, words.

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