With the most famous generation of American lexicographers since Noah Webster — the good-god-almighty dictionary people like Ben Zimmer, Erin McKean, Jesse Sheidlower — you read their stuff and know they love words like Montgomery Burns loves gold bullion. I figure they wear out paper dictionaries faster than toothbrushes.
Contrast that with William Safire — he makes his living off of talking about words, but seems to be very choosy about when he touches a dictionary. As noted before (search 'Safire'), I started blogging in part to vent about Safire's amateurish meanderings. And I learned, as the bumper sticker has it: "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." But, as Elvis Costello said so well, "Oh, I used to be disgusted, and now I try to be amused".* Amused but curious: One of his constant blunders is failing to look up the words he's discussing in the dictionary. Why, then, of all columns, does he start out "Redact this" today with:
When with-it users of language need a word to describe a suddenly increasing activity, we either create a new one — a neologism like blog, a borrowing like au courant — or we dust off a somewhat-related old word and give it a whole new meaning.First off, for the kids, with-it means 'up-to-date' or something. He actually had his assistant look up redact in OED, to pull a citation from 1432? Then, the meaning has changed, and he doesn't raise hell about it? What makes this change OK when a gazillion others aren't?
OK, maybe I don't care that much.
I'm the chairman of the bored— Iggy Pop
* In honor of his affection for threadbare platitudes, I thought about constructing this post entirely out of cliches from beyond his cultural realm. Too hard. My average writing time per post is now up to about 2 minutes, 45 seconds, way too high.