Recently in the Dictionaries Category

sectional (and yak-shaving)

| No Comments

Ah, yak-shaving.

I was curious about the use of the word “sectional” in Civil War-era documents; that's not a usage I had encountered before. So here's how looking up a word goes in the modern world, at least for me:

First I Googled [sectional], and got info about sofas. Then I Googled [sectional Civil War] and got pages that used the term but didn't define it or talk about usage.

So I went to to look it up. But that site has once again forgotten that I always check the “Remember me” checkbox, so it wants me to log in again. (If I weren't a subscriber, I would've gone to their free dictionary page and gotten the info I wanted immediately.)

So I sent them a tech-support note asking how to get the site to remember me, but first I had to make sure cookies were enabled, which required digging into Chrome settings and then Googling [_utma].

And when I was done with all that, I still had to sign in to the dictionary. But I didn't remember my password, so I went to 1Password. Except the 1Password extension in Chrome had disappeared. So I went to find it in the extensions store. Turns out it was installed, just disabled. So I tried enabling it, but that didn't work. So I looked at my extensions page and clicked Reload, and that worked. So I tried to use the newly re-enabled extension to fill in my username and password. And it gave me an error message saying it couldn't verify the authenticity of my browser and thus couldn't fill in my info.

Here's how the old style of looking up a word works: pick up a physical paper dictionary, find the word, read the definition. Of course, that would require getting out of bed.

PS: It turns out that the relevant definition of “sectional” is “local or regional rather than general in character.” I eventually found it by looking at the free version of the MW website instead of the signed-in version.

PPS: If you haven't encountered the term “yak-shaving” before, wiktionary has a pair of definitions. Though I feel like there's also a third variation in which the connotation is that you should have avoided the whole recursion chain by doing something different at the start.

My favorite example of yak-shaving is a 30-second video clip that I gather is from Malcolm in the Middle.

Dictionary of hobo slang

| No Comments

I recently read a novel set among Depression-era hoboes, which led me to look up some of the slang terms, which led me to an online dictionary of hobo slang. Good stuff.

Publishing Dictionary

| No Comments

Yet another in the long list of dictionaries/glossaries available online: a Publishing Dictionary, in which literary agent Jessica Faust provides definitions of a few dozen publishing-related terms.

Recently happened across two useful online glossaries, probably while editing a story:



My name is Shmuel, and I'll be your guest blogger. I'd like to thank Jed for inviting me to come and play. I'm flattered, and excited, and terribly uncertain of what I'll be writing about. But let's start with "salutations."

It occurred to me, as I was casting around for ideas, that the use of "salutations" as a salutation is a bit strange. "Hello" is a salutation. "Dear Sir or Madam" is a salutation. "Salutations" itself seems more like a placeholder, as if one were saying "[insert salutation here]." The same would seem to go for "greetings," for that matter.

(You may be thinking of E.B. White right now. In my experience, "Salutations!" is practically code for "I loved Charlotte's Web as a kid and I still love both language and whimsy." That's likely a skewed sample, however; the kind of people I hang out with tend to be those who love Charlotte's Web, language, and whimsy, no matter what greetings they choose.)

My first thought was that "salutations" might be functioning as a clipped form of a longer phrase, perhaps "I offer you salutations!" An initial check in the unabridged dictionaries I had onhand (notably Merriam-Webster's 2nd and 3rd ed., American Heritage 4th ed., Random House 2nd ed.) found no trace of "salutations" itself being used as a salutation. Furthermore, Random House was the only one to include "greetings" in anything like the sense at hand: "3. greetings, an expression of friendly or respectful regard: send my greetings to your family." This strikes me as not quite the same sense as "Greetings!" but it's in the right ballpark.

Ultimately, I pulled out the big guns: the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED confirmed my original thought, and showed that this construction goes back a long way. Definition 2 for "salutation" is "Elliptically for 'I offer salutation'," though this is flagged as being archaic. The earliest citation is from 1535: "Vnto Eszdras..peace and salutacion." The year 1600 brings a familiar form, almost: "Salutation and greeting to you all." In the singular form, found in these examples, the usage is indeed archaic. The plural form is not, but the OED doesn't mention that at all.

Two things strike me as interesting in all of this. The first is the elliptical form of "salutations" itself, which strikes me as unusual. After all, one doesn't say "Valedictions!" when leaving. Can you think of other examples of such a usage?

The second is that a usage as common as "Greetings!" or "Salutations!" can apparently be taken for granted to the extent that major dictionaries don't bother to note it at all. For that matter, even though the usage has changed from singular to plural—nobody these days would say "Greeting!" or "Salutation!"—only Random House includes the specifically plural form, and that only for "greetings." It's rare that I find a blind spot like this. And kind of cool.

I'm not sure all of this adds up to anything, but there you have it. Salutations!

Variety slang

| 1 Comment

Variety has been using idiosyncratic and hyperbolic slang for about a hundred years now: ankle, biopic, boffo, chopsocky, helm, hoofer, nix, oater, percenter, scribbler, skein, sudser, terp, warble, whammo, yawner, etc.

It turns out that the official website now provides a glossary page explaining a lot of their terms.

Some of the terms listed are not specific to Variety, of course. But some words that have become common in everyday use—such as "sitcom"—were apparently coined by Variety.

Is it a real word?

| No Comments

Ta-Nehisi Coates talks with OED editor Jesse Sheidlower about whether "conversate" is a word.

I <3 the OED.

And dictionary editors in general.

Lexicographer Erin McKean gave a talk at TED in 2007 that covered some related topics, though I think I like Sheidlower's discussion of the issue better.

(Note: Video with sound immediately starts playing if you follow the link to the McKean talk.)

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Dictionaries category.

Computational linguistics is the previous category.

Emoticons is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID
Powered by Movable Type 5.04