Friday, June 17, 2005

Lexicographer

Lexicographer, n. A pestilent fellow who, under the pretense of recording some particular stage in the development of a language, does what he can to arrest its growth, stiffen its flexibility and mechanize its methods. For your lexicographer, having written his dictionary, comes to be considered "as one having authority," whereas his function is only to make a record, not to give a law. The natural servility of the human understanding having invested him with judicial power, surrenders its right of reason and submits itself to a chronicle as if it were a statue. Let the dictionary (for example) mark a good word as "obsolete" or "obsolescent" and few men thereafter venture to use it, whatever their need of it and however desirable its restoration to favor -- whereby the process of improverishment is accelerated and speech decays. On the contrary, recognizing the truth that language must grow by innovation if it grow at all, makes new words and uses the old in an unfamiliar sense, has no following and is tartly reminded that "it isn't in the dictionary" -- although down to the time of the first lexicographer (Heaven forgive him!) no author ever had used a word that was in the dictionary. In the golden prime and high noon of English speech; when from the lips of the great Elizabethans fell words that made their own meaning and carried it in their very sound; when a Shakespeare and a Bacon were possible, and the language now rapidly perishing at one end and slowly renewed at the other was in vigorous growth and hardy preservation -- sweeter than honey and stronger than a lion -- the lexicographer was a person unknown, the dictionary a creation which his Creator had not created him to create.
God said: "Let Spirit perish into Form,"
And lexicographers arose, a swarm!
Thought fled and left her clothing, which they took,
And catalogued each garment in a book.
Now, from her leafy covert when she cries:
"Give me my clothes and I'll return," they rise
And scan the list, and say without compassion:
"Excuse us -- they are mostly out of fashion."

-----Sigismund Smith


2005 Update: Someone to whom words are a sentence.

Bierce
Lexicographer, Ambrose Bierce

16 comments:

Tom & Icy said...

But cloth of misconstruction dressed thought in stylish deception

Tan Lucy Pez said...

My attention span is short, so I like your definition better than Ambrose's.

Doug said...

Jiminy Christmas, Icy! I could never have captured the essence of this site that well. I have to put that up permanently somewhere.

Tan Lucy, I usually edit his long ones down but figured, being as it's autobiographical and all...

actonbell said...

I love the Sigismund Smith poem! I may have to keep that somewhere...
btw, I'm waiting to see if there's something special planned on June 24th...
...and I keep thinking your blog is walking Ambrose...must be thinking of the dog, not the author. Embarrassing mind-slips.

Doug said...

Lucinda, I'm sending you flowers on the 24th is what. It hadn't occured to me to take note of Bierce's birthday and do something special. Any guesses why I'm single at 37? A warning about the poem, most often if not always the poem is written by Bierce and attributed to someone real or imaginary (like the poem under ardor.)

Oh, and just don't call me late for dinner.

weirsdo said...

I don't have to guess, Mr. Dog, but please, PLEASE, get over me and go on with you're LIFE!!!!

Luv and FIENDSHIP always,
PANSI

Doug said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

I'm sorry, Pansi, it's just that when I think about you and the cave troll, am I really so unworthy?

karma said...

1 word is worth 100 explanations

karma said...

... and one '0' makes hell of a difference! sheeeesh i meant '1000'

Doug said...

Karma, I can't tell if that's a double entendre.

Karass said...

HA! this was a good one, especially with the juxtaposition between your 7 word defintion and Freud's freakin' novel.

Doug said...

Hey, Jin! Thanks. It's Bierce's freakin' novel, though. He refers to himself as a lexicographer a lot so I guess he was doing therapy when he wrote this one. By the way, how is the vowel in your name pronounced. I mean, now that I'm writing you poetry and all.

Benjamin Solah said...

Love the new colour's, looks real fresh

karma said...

pardon me, my Freaudian slip is showing :P

Comfort Addict said...

One who issues the linguistic equivalent of speeding and parking tickets but can't drive a car.

Doug said...

Benjamin, thank you.

Ha, Karma, I was going to congratulate you on finding the third one.

Comfort Addict, I think you said what Bierce said in about 5% of the lexicon. Bad day for him, good for you.