Sunday, October 16, 2005

Happy Dictionary Day

From Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day e-mail service:

lexicographer \lek-suh-KAH-gruh-fer\ noun
: an author or editor of a dictionary

Example sentence:
The great lexicographer Noah Webster, who wrote the first authoritative dictionary of American English, was born on October 16, 1758.

Did you know?
Happy Dictionary Day! We're celebrating with a look at a word that is dear to our hearts: "lexicographer." The ancient Greeks were some of the earliest makers of dictionaries; they used them mainly to catalog obsolete terms from their rich literary past. To create a word for writers of dictionaries, the Greeks sensibly attached the suffix "-graphos," meaning "writer," to "lexikon," meaning "dictionary," to form "lexikographos," the direct ancestor of the English "lexicographer." "Lexikon," which itself descends from the Greek "lexis" (meaning "word" or "speech"), also gave us "lexicon," which can mean either "dictionary" or "the vocabulary of a language, speaker, or subject."
As it's Dictionary Day, I'll mention that my most memorable dictionary experience has been looking up the word tappen in the Oxford English Dictionary. Edwin Cuffe, SJ, a funny and wonderful man, suggested that I look it up. I later learned that he pointed countless students to the joys of the OED via this word.

As I type, I realize that I work within easy reach of at least a dozen dictionaries, including the old Book-of-the-Month-Club two-volume OED.

comments: 4

Unknown said...

I had Ed Cuffe as Dean and as my poetry teacher at Saint Andrew-on-Hudson in 1960-1961.

Where and when did you encounter him?

Michael Leddy said...

I took a graduate course on Milton with Fr. Cuffe at Fordham. (I think that he was teaching Milton against his will — it was a wonderfully eccentric course.) About "tappen": knowing that I was an OED fan, he suggested that I look up this word. He wrote it in blue pencil on an envelope. I went down the corridor to use the English department's OED, found the word, and started laughing uncontrollably. Then I saw that Fr. Cuffe had been waiting and watching from the other end of the corridor.

I am proud of having made Fr. Cuffe crack up, just once — despite (or because of) his marvelous sense of humor, he tended to keep a very straight face. He stepped into one of the grad cubicles to show a few of us a flyer about an anti-anxiety workshop for students. "This may be of interest to some of you," he said, or some such words. I responded with mock-hysteria: "Thursday night? At 7:30? Oh no! I don't think I can make it!" And so on. He broke up laughing.

Fr. Cuffe died of a heart attack while reading The World According to Garp. Someone in the English department said that he had had the last word on John Irving. I remember that he was wearing his Wallabees in his casket. At the funeral mass, the person giving the eulogy mentioned "tappen," and there was laughter everywhere.

Robert, it's a pleasure to hear from someone who knew Fr. Cuffe. Feel free to share your thoughts here.

Anonymous said...

My uncle Ed did indeed die while reading TWAG. My brother insists it was at the passage which takes place in the driveway and involves member amputation, but I think this is apocryphal. I am the eldest son of Ed's only sister. I had the great privilege of spending Christmas vacation with him at Campion Hall, Oxford in 1963, and the greater privilege of having him as one of my two uncles. My life philosophy was formed in large part by exposure to him. Other issues turned me from the path he might have wished, but any positive pieces of my character are attributable to him and his sister - my mother. Thank-you for bringing this truly great man to the forefront of my thoughts today.

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, Anon. Thanks so much for writing.