The Story of Webster's Third: Philip Gove's Controversial Dictionary and Its Critics

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Cambridge University Press, May 26, 1995 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 332 pages
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The publication of Webster's Third New International Dictionary in 1961 set off a storm of controversy both in the popular press and in scholarly journals that was virtually unprecedented in its scope and intensity. The New York Times ridiculed the new dictionary's alleged failure to label slang in a now-famous editorial that began, "A passel of double-domes at the G. & C. Merriam Company joint in Springfield, Mass., have been confabbing and yakking for twenty-seven years...and now they have finalized...a new edition of a swell and esteemed book." The attack was joined by Life magazine, the Saturday Review, the Atlantic, the New Yorker, and other magazines and newspapers across the country. Critics charged that Webster's Third had abandoned its responsibility to uphold standards of good English and that it would encourage permissiveness in the teaching of English. Rejoinders by the dictionary's editor, Philip Babcock Gove, and sympathetic journalists and scholars had little effect. Herbert Morton tells the story from the beginning, drawing on new sources: Gove's papers, the files of the publisher, and interviews with former staff members and participants in the controversy. He describes how the Third Edition was planned and put together by Gove, where it went astray, and how it was misunderstood and misinterpreted by its detractors. Later assessments showed that its flaws were exaggerated. It has come to be regarded by virtually all language experts as one of the great dictionaries of our time. This is a very human story as well as the first full account of an extraordinary episode in the annals of lexicography. The issues it brought to the fore are still alive and will be of interestto all those fascinated by the English language and by how it is recorded in our dictionaries.
  

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If you're not the kind of person who is fascinated with words for their own sake, in all their colors and shapes and flavors, from the patricians of ancient lineage to tomorrow's guttersnipe, you'll ... Read full review

Contents

The Best of Times and the Worst A Prologue
1
Goves Formative Years The Road to Springfield
13
Early Days
14
File Cards and Imaginary Voyages
17
Among the Johnsonians in London and Oxford
23
Goves First Foray
26
Travels with the Navy
31
Changing Course
34
The Word Spreads
154
The Quagmire of Aint
158
The Relevance of Fowler
160
Sympathetic Assessments
163
An Early Balance Sheet
165
A Closer Look at the Publicity Strategy
168
The Controversy Heats Up
171
Thunder from the Times
172

The Merriam and Webster Legacies
37
The Merriam Tradition
38
Noah Webster
40
The War of the Dictionaries
45
The Frustrating Search for Leadership
51
On Track at Last
55
The New Editor Takes Hold
59
Deciding What to Omit
61
Limiting the Boards Role
66
In Full Command
69
Upstairs Downstairs
70
Moving Ahead
74
The Meaning of Words Definers at Work
79
Changes in Meaning
82
Tendencies in the Drift of Meaning
84
A New Style of Defining
87
The Definers
90
Lauds and Sneers and More Dos and Donts
92
The Role of Citations
94
Clarifying Meaning
99
The Origins of Words The Etymologists Task
102
Guidelines for Websters Third
105
The Treatment of Loanwords
107
An Example
109
The Vocabulary of Science
111
Dealing with Uncertainty
113
Produce Produce
115
Etymology and the Word That Wasnt
118
The Sound of Words and Other Matters
121
From Websters Second to the Third
123
The Great Eavesdropper
126
The Compromise
128
Signs of Slippage
130
Getting into Type
132
Usage and Final Tasks
135
Correctness and the Purists
138
The Loom of Competition
142
The Bumpy Road to the Finish Line
144
Zyzzogeton at Last
147
Will It Sell?
148
Early Returns The Fuse Is Lit
153
Mixed Reports
176
Friendly Critics in the Press
180
YearEnd Assessment
185
Calamity or Calumny?
186
Sabotage in Springfield
187
The Fallout from Follett
190
But Whats a Dictionary For?
192
The Word from Britain
197
The Times Takes Another Look
200
Macdonalds and Sledd Face Off
201
The Clash of Views
203
Commercial Intrusions Trademarks Takeover Threats Competition
215
The Worth of a Name
216
Hostile and Friendly
223
The Usage Panel as Competition
228
At Issue A Way of Life
233
Ripostes Here and There
235
Ethnic Sensitivities
237
The Chimera of Politics
240
A Linguist Responds
243
The Judgment of Peers
245
The Word List
247
Slang
248
Colloquial and Other Labels
252
Etymology
255
Pronunciation
256
Miscellany
258
The Persistent Critic and the Second Battle of Aint
262
Gove and Websters Third The Legacy
267
Winding Down
268
Deja Vu and Plus Ca Change
271
Second Thoughts
273
Small World
276
A Lasting Influence
278
Concluding Words
281
A Change in the Critical Climate
282
The Maturing Treatment of Usage
284
Websters Third after Three Decades
288
Notes
291
Index
325
Copyright

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