Dictionary Day Contest: Fictional Dictionaries

Dictionary, by greeblie

Dictionary, by greeblie

[Photo CC BY 2.0 by greeblie]

We here at Wordnik love dictionaries of all kinds. We love etymologicons, idioticons, and synonymicons. We love specialty dictionaries, traditional dictionaries, and those that are crowd-sourced. We love dictionaries old and new. But what about those dictionaries that don’t exist but should?

In celebration of Dictionary Day, which takes place on October 16 and honors the birthday of lexicographer Noah Webster, we’re holding a contest. You may be familiar with The New Yorker‘s popular Questioningly column. Every week, readers receive a different challenge, such as Muppetizing a movie, making up a punctuation mash-up, or coming up with the worst job in literature, and are asked to tweet their answers (which are as many as they can think of).

The Super Dictionary

The Super Dictionary, by joelk75

[Photo CC BY 2.0 by joelk75]

Taking a cue from Questioningly, we’re asking you to make up a dictionary. It could be political (Mitt Romney’s 180s, A to Z), pragmatic (50 Ways to Leave Your Lover), or just plain silly (A to Z Guide to ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ Style). The only requirement is that it doesn’t already exist.

Tweet the title of your fictional dictionary with the hashtag #wordnikAtoZ. The contest will run from today until Monday, October 15. On the 16th, we’ll announce our favorites, the runners-up, and the big winner. Prizes await!

Wordnik word of the day: pluck

Today’s word of the day is pluck. Naturally, if we’re going to choose a word that seems so ordinary, we’re going to tell you about a meaning that isn’t. This pluck is the heart, liver, windpipe, and lungs of a sheep, ox, or other animal used as butchers’ meat. It’s also used figuratively or humorously for similar parts of a human being, especially when talking about “having the pluck” or “being plucky,” meaning, “showing courage and spirit in trying circumstances” or “being bold or brave.” In other words, “having the guts or the stomach to do something” or “showing intestinal fortitude.”

Why doesn’t anyone ever say, “He has the belly button to do what’s right?”

We Love the Century Dictionary

O NE of our favorite parts of Wordnik is the Century Dictionary. With more than 530,000 definitions and discursive notes, it is the second-largest English-language dictionary ever published.

But the Century isn’t just big—it’s beautiful, too. To quote expert etymologist Anatoly Liberman, “The Century is one of the great reference works in American history (some would say the greatest).” In the Oxford History of English Lexicography, Thomas Herbst and Michael Klotz write that “it is a superb dictionary in many respects and still has much to offer to those interested in the vocabulary of the period. It was from the beginning a quixotic venture (as many new dictionaries are), and it occupies a singular place in American lexicography for its attempt to marry the highest form of the printers art with dictionary-making.”

The Century—despite having been available online as searchable images from the nice folks at Global Language, and in scanned and OCR (optical character recognition) versions at the Internet Archive and through Google Books—has been too little-known for too long. So we knew we wanted it to be a part of Wordnik in a format that was a little less archival and a little more useful, to give more people the joy of browsing through it.

We didn’t want to change the spirit of the original text, but we did want to make the Century a bit more readable. So we expanded thousands of abbreviations (such as mycol., priv., and Lett.) to their full forms (mycology, privative, and Lettish, in case you were curious). We also converted more than 240,000 pronunciations from the obsolete Century format (they had about a dozen different representations for schwa [ə]!) to the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Even though we had the entire Century keyed from scanned pages, instead of using OCR (for better accuracy) there are still some typos scattered through the text. If you see a typo in any entry, please do use the “Report a typo” link at the top of the page to let us know!

Other usability improvements are coming soon, but in the meantime, if you’d like more information about the Century Dictionary, see the Wikipedia entry. Also, in the 1996 (number 17) issue of the journal Dictionaries, published by the Dictionary Society of North America, there are a number of excellent articles celebrating the centennial of the first edition of the Century.