Saturday, January 14, 2012

Webster's New Collegiate ad

[Life, November 17, 1961. Click for a larger, more readable view.]

I’m reading Herbert C. Morton’s The Story of Webster’s Third: Philip Gove’s Controversial Dictionary and Its Critics and teaching David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I have dictionaries on my brain. Thus this post.

It’s impossible to tell from the ad that Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (published in September 1961, lower left in the ad) was already the subject of heated (and often badly informed) criticism. This issue of Life has a letter from Gove defending the Third against a recent editorial:

The controversy over Webster’s Third is a remarkable moment in the so-called culture wars (resulting largely from an ill-conceived publicity campaign). I laugh to think that I used this dictionary for many years before learning that anyone found fault with it: to me, the Third seemed, and still seems, just fine. And I for one like the idea of Ethel Merman being quoted in a dictionary (or “the dictionary”): “Three shows a day drain a girl.”

A related post
-wise-wise (The Life editorial and -wise)

[Is that Rick Perry, time-traveler, smiling in 1961?]

comments: 2

Anonymous said...

Dick! Shun nary a life!

normann said...

Quite so. A dictionary is not an editor between hard covers. Writers with a good ear develop a sense of what is appropriate (my once having been a pedant allows me to translate Norwegian legalese into its English counterpart with no complaints from my readers). My view is that one cannot be a really good editor until the age of 40, preferably 45 or even 50. At that age one has enough experience to be able to strike a balance between admitting novelties and preserving distinctions that continue to matter for the target audience. One also has acquired a sense of humor about oneself. Pedants may proofread, but they should not have the final say.