Edmund Wilson and the Rise of American Lit

HJamesinLoAFor several years, I have had a hunger to write this piece about the arrival of the Library of America on the American publishing scene. I was amazed that less than a century ago only a few American literary figures believed American literature was capable of greatness. After World War Two, however, a consensus developed in favor of American literature. Problem solved? Not exactly. Because then there was a terrific fight over who would get to play curator to this incredible literary tradition.


Verily: Men Versus Women

IMG_0846Women are more correct and more with-it: A piece inspired by reading Matt Gordon’s primer on the work of the pioneering sociolinguist William Labov.


The Story of Cool

CallowayMy Humanities essay on the rise of cool, the American slang term that took on new life beginning in the 1930s.
(image: Cab Calloway, lexicographer of jive)

The Story of Ain’t in NYT Acrostic

NYTAcrosticSolution_0001I am not an acrostic afficianado, but was delighted to learn there is a type of crossword that is used to produce coded references to books and authors.

So Very Very on The Story of Ain’t

StoryOfAint_5_30The literary and cultural blog So Very Very published a delightful review of The Story of Ain’t, one of my favorites: “Skinner articulates the dark humor of the hysteria over Webster’s Third wonderfully.” I know, what’s not like?

Skinner on Redskin

redskinI wrote an article about the history of the term redskin for Lexicon Valley, the language blog on Slate. (Lexicon Valley is also an excellent podcast I recommend checking out.) My discussion was based on the research of Ives Goddard, an expert in Indian languages at the Smithsonian Institution and main adviser to the Oxford English Dictionary on Indian languages and culture. Check it out.

London Times calls The Story of Ain’t “implausibly entertaining”

StoryOfAint_5_30“A book about a dictionary may sound a dry read. I’ve found one that’s implausibly entertaining. It’s a recent American book calledThe Story of Ain’t by David Skinner and it describes the making ofWebster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language of 1961.”

[subscription only] What Oliver Kamm said . . ..

The Story of Ain’t in the Christian Science Monitor

StoryOfAint_5_30Ruth Walker compares The Story of Ain’t to The Professor and the Madman, and quotes PJ O’Rourke’s words of praise for The Story of Ain’t:

“As P.J. O’Rourke so aptly blurbed: “With one small contraction David Skinner tells the tale of a great battle in the 1960s War Between the Real and the Ideal.”

More at  . . .

What Mark Liberman Said on Language Log

cover10percent“I’m happy to have this occasion to post an enthusiastic recommendation: You should immediately run out (virtually or physically) and buy this book, in any of its editions.” So sayeth Mark Liberman, University of Pennsylvania linguist, about The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published.

On the Role of Dictionaries in NYT

W2skullimageWhen it happens I feel as if I have stepped into a Far Side cartoon. I am a magazine editor, and the galley of an article will come back from a proofreader with a low-frequency word circled and this comment in the margin: “Does this word even exist?” or “Is this a real word?” Read the rest.