Good luck to all the Lexies on this list.


> Sexy Lexies
> On Language by William Safire, New York Times Magazine, 3.6.29
> Great news on the dictionary front: lexicographers are hot
> again, as nonstandard words are being covered as never
> before. (Lexies who prefer to be known as ''lexos'' risk
> being prescriptive; lexies is the common informal usage
> among pop grammarians for ''writers of dictionaries.'')
> Next week is the big week at Merriam-Webster, the company
> that bought the rights to Noah Webster's work, when the
> 11th edition of its Collegiate Dictionary is launched.
> (Only M-W can use the trademarked adjective ''collegiate''
> in modifying ''dictionary''; others of that length --
> 165,000 words or so -- use an attributive noun in calling
> themselves ''college'' editions.) The marketers of the
> editor in chief Fred Mish's baby have pulled out all the
> stops, as the organists say, packaging M-W's first full
> revision in a decade with a CD-ROM in case your thumb wears
> out. Included in the $26 price is a year's subscription to
> a Web site that tosses in a searchable database of a
> thesaurus, collegiate encyclopedia and Spanish-English
> dictionary. I'd say that deal is def.
> Def, slang for ''cool,'' is in the 11th, along with phat,
> which used to be teenage lingo for ''highly gratifying.''
> Less noncy is funplex, ''an entertainment complex that
> includes facilities for various sports and games and often
> restaurants.'' Genetically modified chow is in there as
> Frankenfood, still capitalized in honor of Dr. Victor
> Frankenstein, the ghost of Mary Shelley will be pleased to
> learn. Waitrons (nope; that overly nonsexist term never
> made it) will be happy to see barista, ''a person who makes
> and serves coffee (as espresso) to the public.'' Most
> fecund source of neologisms in M-W's 11th is electronic
> technology, exemplified by the latest sense of convergence:
> ''the merging of distinct technologies, industries or
> devices into a united whole.''
> A worthy competitor, Webster's New World Dictionary, was
> purchased two years ago by John Wiley & Sons, along with
> Cliffs Notes and the helpful ''for Dummies'' series. That
> dictionary, first reference of The New York Times and not
> for dummies, is updated annually. ''This year's new
> words,'' Mike Agnes, its editor in chief, informs me,
> ''will include crunch, as in the gym move, and firewall, in
> its computer sense. We've added every schoolchild's
> favorite dinosaur, the velociraptor. And here's a word
> you'll like: kleptocracy, 'a government characterized by
> the theft or appropriation of its country's natural
> resources or finances.''' Boytoy, though used in the early
> 1980's from a self-description on Madonna's belt, is now in
> use with its sex changed to ''an attractive man regarded as
> being a readily compliant companion or sex partner.''
> Best lexical news of all to word lovers is the salvation of
> the Historical Dictionary of American Slang. The first two
> volumes of this projected tetralogy (that's Standard
> English for four volumes) were published by Random House
> and opened a window on America's cultural heritage. The
> ambitious project, brainchild of Jonathan Lighter at the
> University of Tennessee, was a godsend to all of us in the
> language dodge. But Random House, which is not a
> philanthropy, saw no profit in finishing it. We panicked;
> would slang scholarship stop dead at the letter O?
> The National Endowment for the Humanities popped with a
> grant of $325,000 over two years to keep Lighter slaving
> away like a modern-day Sir James Murray, and Oxford
> University Press picked up the challenge. The Brits, just
> as they did in Iraq, came through for the U.S.
> ''The N.E.H. grant helps subvent it,'' reports Casper
> Grathwohl, reference editor at Oxford, ''and we're now
> working out the contract with Random House.'' (The verb
> subvent, ''to come to the help of,'' is listed as
> ''obsolete, rare'' in the Oxford English Dictionary, but it
> defines the noun subvention as ''a grant from government .
> . . in support of an enterprise of public importance,''
> which this nearly abandoned history surely is.) Jesse
> Sheidlower, who was Lighter's editor at Random House, is
> now principal North American editor of the O.E.D. and will
> work with the great lexicographer again.
> ''We want to build a whole online slang project with this
> at its core,'' Grathwohl says, ''a slang resource center
> and living language project.'' He envisions a ''slang
> watch'' and a yearbook of ''the best American slang of
> 2004, that sort of thing. By being able to finish this
> work, Oxford will play a pivotal role in documenting the
> way Americans speak.'' Why? The British lexie subvented me
> easily: ''Slang is the sexiest part of a language.''
> Not all etymology of American slang and local dialect has
> been placed in British hands. The majestic, delicious
> Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE),
> headquartered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and
> pioneered by the late Fred Cassidy, is now in its fifth of
> six volumes. The Mellon Foundation led the way, and the
> Horace Goldsmith Foundation has been helping finance this
> work, and I've been shamelessly wheedling readers for its
> support in this space, but it's been a financial struggle
> to get past the letters Sk. Now the Harvard University
> Press has stepped in, and the elite East will help preserve
> the linguistic history of the hinterland's hoagies, heroes
> and subs.
> ''It's amazing that there is so little overlap,'' Lighter
> observes in wonderment, ''between the corpus of my slang
> work and DARE's. It shows the huge size of the nonstandard
> vocabulary.''
> He's up to the letter S. What histories lie there? ''Scam
> will be in there, in the sense of 'con game.' Snorter is a
> good one: an old seafaring term for a heavy gale, usually
> off Cape Horn. Scope out -- 'to look at,' synonymous with
> 'to peep something out.' Here's another good one: swamp
> angel, a term used in the Deep South in the 19th century
> that means 'mosquito.' I don't know if The Times will let
> you write about this, but there'll be an entry for
> smart-ass as well.''
> I explained to my lexical brother that The Times permits me
> to examine words that would otherwise be banned from its
> pages on grounds of good taste if the purpose is scholarly
> or if the quoted use is germane. Although the common slang
> term for what President Reagan famously called keister is
> still properly frowned on by stylists at my newspaper, it
> is permissible to quote the Charles Dickens character Mr.
> Bumble's ''The law is a ass'' (remembering not to change
> the dialectic a to an). Perhaps, in his etymology of
> smart-ass, Lighter will discover how the second part of
> that compound noun and adjective turned away from -aleck.
> Anyone who derogates the philology of slang, as exemplified
> in Harvard Press's DARE, in Oxford Press's Historical
> Dictionary of American Slang, in some of our new
> dictionaries -- or who tries to bowdlerize these final
> paragraphs -- should feel free to consult those authorities
> for a colorful, widely understood adjective to describe
> such hypersensitivity.