Saturday, August 1, 2009

Webster's New World online

Webster’s New World College Dictionary, the official dictionary of the Associated Press and many other news organizations, is now online. I've been using the CD version of the dictionary for years because it's just so much faster than paging through a book.

Other major dictionaries -- Merriam-Webster, American Heritage -- have been available online for a long time now. WNW is a welcome addition to cyberspace.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hooking up words and phrases and clauses

Ah, Schoolhouse Rock memories ...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Inflated comparisons

Back in 1950, a car cost a mere $2,200! Boy, sure sounds as if life were cheaper back then. Back when things were simple and the economy didn't scalp you, huh? Money shockers like this are all over the place -- in magazines, newspapers, documentaries, TV news reports.

But let's spend a moment with that car number, shall we? We know that inflation eats up the value of a buck, right? So if we take a quick jaunt over to a Federal Reserve inflation calculator and plug in the date and the price, we find that in 2009 dollars, that car is $19,462. And consider just how much more advanced a car you'll be the proud owner of.

Always keep inflation in mind. It's lazy when journalists hit you with a gee-whiz number and drop all economic context. In fairness, I suspect some writers don't understand their error; inflation seems to be something many people forget about when talking about past prices. That makes it all the more important to have editors who stop and think about such details. The entertainment factor has got to be very tempting. Entertaining your audience is fine, but you fall on your face when the point you're trying to make is a fiction.

I'm not advocating against price comparisons -- they can reveal fascinating trends (among them, just how much our standard of living has grown). I simply want comparisons that are fair. Apples and apples, so to speak.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Erin McKean on lexicography

This evening I happened upon a lecture given by dictionary editor Erin McKean at Google. It's worth watching.

From the Deep Vertical blog:
Erin McKean speaks at Google: Erin McKean, editor and lexicographer for the New Oxford American Dictionary, tells Google the ten things she wishes people knew about dictionaries, how people go about making new words, and how lexicographers use Google.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Word of the year: bailout

The American Dialect Society's word of the year for 2008 is "bailout," defined as "the rescue by the government of companies on the brink of failure, including large players in the banking industry."

My favorite entry is the winner of the Most Creative category: "recombobulation area," defined as "an area at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee in which passengers that have just passed through security screening can get their clothes and belongings back in order." (I adore the term "discombobulated.")

The weirdest entry was "thought showers," which had a decent showing in the Most Euphemistic category. It's listed as "coined by a British city council because the synonym 'brainstorming' was said to be offensive to epileptics."

My prediction for 2009? I suspect "sustainable" (gack) will have a strong showing.