A while back, I spent an incredible day with Judith Dupre, author of an excellent large-scale book about One World Trade Center. It was fascinating, and personally trying due to my acrophobia.
Was impressed by this lexicographical memoir by former OED editor John Simpson. I have read enough writing by lexicographers to know that an appetite for words does not usually come with the ability to tell a story. Fortunately, like the deliciously funny Kory Stamper (Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries), Simpson makes it look simple to know a lot about words and, at the same time, to use them with felicity.
I have been reading McCarry’s latest, The Mulberry Bush, which made me think I should post my 2009 profile of the great spy novelist. He’s been on my mind lately, after reading in the New York Times Book Review that chef-author Anthony Bourdain is also a fan. I will add Bourdain to my list of McCarry afficionados: P.J. O’Rourke, Christopher Buckley, Otto Penzler, Lyndon Baines Johnson.
For several years, I have had a hunger to write this piece about the arrival of the Library of America on the 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 play curator to this incredible literary tradition.
My 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 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?
I 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.
“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.”
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