Tuesday, August 7, 2018

A perpetual calendar

I found it while looking for something else:

[Webster’s Second International Dictionary (1934).]

One major difference between Webster’s Second and Third is the disappearance of encyclopedic or nonlexical content: proper names (people, places, things, events, organizations), epithets, proverbs, titles of literary works, in short, the material that made W2 an all-purpose home reference. As Herbert C. Morton points out, Philip Gove, W3’s editor, was not charting a new direction in lexicography in removing the nonlexical: he was following in a tradition established by Johnson’s Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary.

I wonder what debate the W2 entry for perpetual calendar might have sparked in the W3 editorial conferences. Clearly, the calendar itself is a nonlexical item. But as the preface to W3 says about cutting nonlexical material, “Selection is guided by usefulness.” Without a perpetual calendar, how might the layperson answer a what-day-of-the-week question? I like to imagine a Merriam-Webster editor shuddering at the thought of a dictionary user having to head out to a newsstand or supermarket in search of an almanac.

For whatever reason, the calendar stayed for W3. But the differences between the W2 and W3 entries are revealing. W3 makes no mention of the Gregorian and Julian calendars and omits the fairly tedious presentation of calendar mathematics. Will a W3 reader wonder why the calendar begins with 1753? Apparently not: all 1961 wants to know is how to find out what-day-of-the-week.

[Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1961).]

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate (2004) has no calendar, only a definition:

n (1895) : a table for finding the day of the week for any one of a wide array of dates
Of course. Calculate-the-date websites and calendar apps have made a printed perpetual calendar obsolete. The Calendar app on my Mac is reported to run well past the year 200,000.

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)
Review: The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published

[Herbert C. Morton’s The Story of “Webster’s Third”: Philip Gove’s Controversial Dictionary and Its Critics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) gives a careful inventory of the materials removed from or reduced in W3.]

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