“In The Story of Ain’t, David Skinner . . . has chronicled the making of W3 and the rocky reception that greeted it upon its entrance into the world. His account of what he calls “the most controversial dictionary ever published” is comprehensive and evenhanded, and written in a clear and jaunty style.” Continue reading “What Joseph Epstein Said”
Janet Maslin writes: “When it comes to the central conflict between [Dwight] Macdonald and Philip Gove, the editor most responsible for setting the Third’s agenda, [Skinner] frames their differences with perfect clarity. ‘Gove had unveiled the great shining accomplishment of his life,’ Mr. Skinner says. ‘Dwight MacDonald wrote the best essay of his life, mocking it.'” Read more.
Diane Brandley writes, “Mr. Skinner weaves a true tale fascinating not just to linguists and lexicographers, but to anyone interested in the evolution of our language during a critical period in America’s History.” Read more.
Through a hodgepodge cast of linguists, writers, and lexicographers, The Story of Ain’t [Harper, $26.99] chronicles how world war, the Great Depression, and other major events shaped Americans’ use of English and led the G. and C. Merriam Co.to produce two very different dictionaries: Webster’s Second in 1934 and Webster’s Third in 1961.
Lovely review of The Story of Ain’t in the Boston Globe Saturday paper: “In this highly entertaining, thoughtful new book, David Skinner lays out the battle over “ain’t” — specifically its inclusion in 1961 in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language”
James Kelly of Vanity Fair wrote a lovely review: “Mr. Skinner does a fine job detailing the controversy that greeted Webster’s Third, but he is even stronger when describing the internal politics at Merriam and the mechanics of revising a dictionary. (Editors spent a decade perusing everything from newspapers to food containers to owner’s manuals for new words and usages, using only black or red pencils and never reading for more than two hours at a stretch, lest attention lag.) Anyone contemplating a dictionary-making career will read this book and think about switching to something less arduous, like, say, coal mining.”
“Was it the first modern dictionary or the last traditional one? One way or the other, the flap over the appearance of Webster’s Third in 1961 was a never-to-be-repeated episode in American cultural history—a cultural donnybrook that spilled over into the editorial of the New York Times, the Nero Wolfe mystery novels, and the cartoons and columns of the New Yorker, where Dwight Macdonald had a cow. A half century later it’s still a compelling story with contemporary resonances. David Skinner has told it brilliantly, Continue reading “What Geoffrey Nunberg said”
Reviewer Pete Croatto calls The Story of Ain’t “a fascinating, highly entertaining cultural history that will enchant an audience beyond word nerds…. Skinner nimbly, concisely-and without academic dryness-traces the everyday changes that shaped what came out of Americans’ mouths and into our dictionaries. Ain’t that something?”
“You’re going to Spain with or without your kids?” That was the question friends always asked when I mentioned the upcoming trip. And why not? So much of my social life these days revolves around my children that I regularly receive emails identifying the sender, after the signature and always in parentheses, as So-and-So’s mom or So-and-So’s dad. It’s like a reversal of the Russian patronymic, which identifies people by their father. In this case adults are identified by reference to the little people they chauffeur to soccer games. Continue reading “Casual: Maddy and Daddy”
“On the Media” interviewed me in 2009 about Webster’s Third, shortly after my article “Ain’t That the Truth” was published in Humanities. Best part: I got to curse on public radio. Okay, not really. I read all the curse words that were included in W3 and the producers dutifully bleeped them out. (Humanities cover art by Dona Bagley)