Christopher Caldwell attacks* the Dictionary of American Regional English in a piece called "Words that fail the test of time" in yesterday's Financial Times. (He's a senior editor at the Weekly Standard.)
The article is wrong or misleading on a whole host of points and it's not worth the hours it would take to lay those all out. Just consider one little chunk:
[DARE's] backward focus is an implicit admission that, in the television age (and even more so in the internet age), quirks of language melt away like butter on a stove. Dare might more accurately be called a historical dictionary. Its main use will be for clarifying obscure references in old oral histories.In part, DARE is a historical dictionary. It records tons of old farming vocabulary, for instance, words that are not known or used today. Vocabulary, like the rest of language, is constantly changing. I say: Deal with it.
Throughout the piece, Caldwell seems to be striving to make DARE sound useless. As many stories in the press about DARE — including the recent set — have noted, it is being used in forensic linguistics (yup, to track down criminals) and in medicine (where doctors actually need to know folk terms used by patients).
But surely anyone with any interest in language has by now picked up on the discussions about how dialectal diversity is increasing rather than decreasing in the United States today.
Sigh. 2009 is still young, but this may be the worst piece of language-related journalism I've read so far this year.
* Who the heck attacks dictionaries?
Image from here, in reference to Caldwell's claim — which will be met with hoots of derision here in the Upper Midwest — about lutefisk: "This is a word that will either disappear or be thoroughly integrated into mainstream English." By the way, the word is not 'from Swedish', but both Norwegian and Swedish.