Tag Archives: evolution

Dictionary evangelist – redefining the dictionary

Erin McKean does more than redefine the dictionary in her TED talk; she redefines our concept of language. She says that our idea of what a dictionary is hasn’t changed since Queen Victoria’s times – we have the idea that a dictionary contains the ‘good’ words (the ‘real’ ones) and keeps out the bad words (‘not real words’). That’s what she finds frustrating about her perceived role as lexicographer – that she is seen as a traffic cop, whereas she’d rather be a fisherman (yes, she used ‘man’). 

But, I hear you say, dictonaries have changed, they’ve come online, they are well connected; they have hyperlinks. Well, according to Erin, an online dictionary has essentially remained unchanged – it’s just a Victorian design with a modern propulsion.

What Erin challenges the audience to do is to rethink ‘good word’/’bad word’. She says when people find a word that isn’t in the dictionary, they think it’s because it’s a ‘bad word’ (think Scrabble), but actually, it’s not in there because the dictionary is too small. The book is not the best shape for the dictionary.

Erin challenges us to look past the artificial constraints of the book-form dictionary; we should study ALL the words. So how do we know that a word is ‘real’? She says, if you love a word, use it. Using it makes it real. It’s less about control and more about description. New words are everywhere, and Boing Boing is an example of the use of ‘undictionaried’ words. Erin suggests we look at the English dictionary as a map of the English language. An antiquated map of the world only contained what we ‘knew’ at that time, but there was much more to discover. As Erin says, when we left out countries in the old maps, we didn’t even know they were missing. So too with words.

And so Erin McKean is in the business of collecting words. She says that words need to be collected with all their background information – a word is ‘like an archaeological artefact’, and ‘a word without a source is like a cut flower – it dies fast’.

Well, I’m swept up by the evangelistic fervour of this New Age lexicographer, but do I dare embrace the new lexicographical freedom and risk chaos? Can we open up the business of word making to the masses when it has traditionally been the hallowed role of unseen word geeks? But then again, Wikipedia has opened up the font of knowledge, and the world hasn’t collapsed yet.

And I recommend Erin’s blog, Dictionary evangelist if you want to discover the unchartered seas of 21st century language. Here, instead of talking about a word’s etymology, Erin delights in its ‘roots, bones, innards, pips, and secret parts’. Or read about the acceptance of new words like ‘chillax’ in Erin’s article in the Boston Globe.

And let’s have some fun with words. To quote Erin, ‘if it works like a word, just use it’.

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Filed under 21st century learning, creativity, Education, internet, language, learning, writing

Blogs, Twitter and the read/write evolution

I recently (five minutes ago) discovered this blog and read an analogy I liked between blogging and music formats. The author was discussing a possible reason for the recent slowing down of blogging:

I probably see blogging now as the album format with something like Rejaw or Tumblr as the EP format (macro-blogging?) together with Twitter and others (status updates) being analogous to the single in digital download format. Dubious though my analogy may well be I hope it illustrates that I see this dissipation as all being part of the same offering.

Well, I’ve come to blogging late and it seems, according to some, I’ve almost missed the boat. Should I stop embarrassing myself with the long blog posts which are apparently so passe? Or should I continue to indulge myself, knowing that my novice posts are a necessary part of my early stages of evolution, a purging perhaps, an outpouring of the silenced thoughts of previous decades?

Twitter I’ve only recently added to my online life (told you I was a latecomer), and I still feel like an outsider there, posting the odd tweet in the hope of being heard, of being accepted into a conversation. Mobile computing is not part of my diet yet, and that may change in the future if I reinvent my commitment to the latest technology. I agree with the abovementioned author that the initial overwhelming addiction to regular blogging is slowly receding –

I don’t have that mania for a daily post as perhaps I did in the past. I’ve allowed various social networking and micro-blogging outlets to soak up a range of smaller spontaneous thoughts.

The blog is still, for me, the place that I call my own, where I can take the time to express ideas and share interesting finds, whereas the microblogging is a little like fast food – it’s quick and it fills the spot, but you wouldn’t savour it.  As said author has stated so well –

My point is that it’s all just platforms, formats, vehicles or just another tool. It’s either the evolution of blogging or the slow dilution of a once powerful creative outlet into a series of side alleys and cul-de-sacs.

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Filed under creativity, technology, Web 2.0