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Re: [ontolog-forum] Well written blog post re Words and Dictionaries

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 21 May 2014 07:24:29 -0400
Message-id: <537C8CED.2060808@xxxxxxxxxxx>
David and Pat,    (01)

There are two major forces that drive the editorial policies of
dictionaries:  (1) the intended audience, and (2) the publishers'
desire to stay in business.    (02)

> I submit the following blog post to your attention:
> http://jsomers.net/blog/dictionary    (03)

 From that blog
> [Most modern dictionaries are] all a chore to read. There’s no play,
> no delight in the language. The definitions are these desiccated
> little husks of technocratic meaningese, as if a word were no more
> than its coordinates in semantic space...
> [Noah Webster's] Blue Backed Speller... was actually the most popular
> book of its time; by 1890 it had sold 60 million copies...
> In his own lifetime [Webster's] dictionary sold poorly and got little
> recognition...    (04)

That's a clue why modern dictionaries are so terse -- before spelling
correctors, spelling was a major reason why people bought them.  The
dictionary was NW's love, but the spelling book kept him alive.    (05)

Among the small audience of educated readers, Webster's dictionary
was extremely desirable.  In England, that audience was not happy
that the major dictionary of the English language was produced in
America.  That caused them to produce the OED -- which struggled
financially, but succeeded only because of outside donations.    (06)

In the US, the _Century Dictionary_ (of which my favorite philosopher
C. S. Peirce was an associate editor) was intended as a competitor to
the OED.  It was an excellent dictionary -- but a financial failure.
You can download it (172 MB) for free from Google books.    (07)

But note Roget's Thesaurus -- which is truly "no more than coordinates
in semantic space" -- was financially successful from the beginning.    (08)

> For anyone who is curious about the 1913 Webster’s unabridged,
> there is a searchable version online at:
> http://machaut.uchicago.edu/websters
> There is also a zipped SGML-marked-up text (broken into individual letters):
> http://micra.com/dictionary/mcide.zip    (09)

Both the _Century Dictionary_ and the 1913 Webster's went out of
copyright and became the major resources for "terse definitions"
of cheap dictionaries during the 20th c.    (010)

John    (011)

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