October 1st, 2008 | Other Projects, Sketch Diary, Uncategorized
Yesterday I paid a visit to my publisher, Houghton Mifflin, in Boston, and got to meet these two guys who work on the American Heritage Dictionary. That’s Patrick John Taylor on the left, and Steven R. Kleinedler. (I think they may have had something to do with my invitation to be on the AHD Usage Panel a couple years ago.)
It was terribly exciting. I felt like Milo visiting the word market in The Phantom Tollbooth. We reminisced fondly about the dictionaries we’d spent our childhoods immersed in. For me it was Webster’s. “Which edition?” Patrick and Steven chorused. I had no idea, but they were able to ascertain with a few questions that it was the Second. Steven pointed out that Webster’s Second remains a popular dictionary among conservative home schoolers, because it doesn’t have any bad words in it. Like “evolution.” (Actually, it does have “evolution,” but it’s defined at some length as merely a theory.)
Steven grew up with the Random House dictionary, and Patrick’s was the AHD itself. His boyhood hero was Calvert Watkins, who wrote all that stuff about Indo-European roots in the back. Now that’s Patrick’s job.
I learned all sorts of fascinating things, like the difference between the High School and College editions of the AHD. Here’s a comparison of page 559 in each–can you figure it out?
See how cleverly they add some weird words to fill up the space that’s left? In order to avoid having to re-design all the dang pages? And look, here’s a movie where Steven determines just what adjustments had to be made to avoid having a certain problematic piece of slang show up as a boldface guide word at the top of the page.
We didn’t just discuss dirty words, though. There was also some lofty talk about Old Church Slavonic, and monosemy.
As Patrick says, “‘C’ and ‘S’ are the most formidable letters.”