Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Humor of Editors

It has come to my attention that my favorite arcane and obscure dictionaries are falling to the ephemeral nature of the net.

Please, let's all have a moment of silence to think about the lost knowledge, useless as it may have been, that those wondrous clearinghouses put at our fingertips. Tissues are available next to your keyboards.

Everyone ready to continue?


I may not be able to provide the same type of Word of the Post like I did before these resources went to the net graveyard, but I'm still going to try to provide some kind of word trivia.

The first one will be….

Word of the Post

Some editors have a sense of humor. Don't look at me that way. It's true. Oh sure, we all know one or two editors who are actually human and we have to keep reminding ourselves that they are, in fact, editors. However, did you know that the editors of Merriam-Webster have a sense of humor?

Well, in 1934, they did. For those of you who are playing along at home, I'll direct you to page 232 in "One-Night Stands with American History" by Richard Shenkman and Kurt Reiger.

In the scientific community, density is abbreviated as D. or d. With that you have a recipe for humor. Add in one careless assistant. Mix in a helpful assistant. Top with editors who wanted to see if anyone would notice. Fold all the ingredients together and publish at 1934 degrees for several additions and you get the nonexistent word "dord" which was never a noun that meant density.

According to Shenkman and Reiger "dord" stayed in the dictionary for "several additions" and was removed when new editors took over control.

It's amazing to me the things we can get away with when dealing with language. A friend of mine, who I met while attending field school in Guatemala, was working on his PhD in linguistics. He told me if I ever need a word and didn't have one to make up something and put quotes around it. I'll never forget his words, "Put quotes around it and, poof, it becomes a word."

I wonder if "dord" had quotes around it in the 1934 Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Scene of the Post. Mark and James, you're up.

Mark hunched over his desk. Papers, stacked six inches high, flanked his shoulders. The green desk lamp gave off way too much heat for his work-weary eyes. With the adding machine keys perfectly memorized, the steady rhythmic clacking created its own industrial music.

The Pennsylvania calculations needed to be done by the meeting tomorrow and he'd fallen behind due to the extended meeting today. Meetings. At times if felt like the Census Bureau had more meetings than anything else.

With the muscles in his hand humming and vibrating, Mark sat upright in his chair and rolled his wrist. There had to be an easier way of doing this.

"Break time?"

Mark turned in his chair and looked up at his friend James. Friend. Just friends. Why did it have to be that way? Mark nodded. "Yes. Pennsylvania's population dord won't find itself."

James hiked an eyebrow. "Dord?"

Mark nodded.

"Dord." The first time James said the word it sounded like a question. This time Mark couldn't tell if James was confirming the word or trying not to laugh. James shook his head and chuckled at a joke only he heard. "That's not a word."

Mark crossed his arms over his chest. "Oh really?" The office rivalry between the two language swashbucklers had reached legendary status. Offices around the country took pools on which of the two men would stump the other and now, Mark, trailing by 2 to 1 odds, could nearly taste the lead. "Care to put a little wager on that?"

A grin slipped on James's face. A little smile that served as James's poker nemesis. That smirk told Mark when James was bluffing. "What do you want to wager?"

Mark smiled trying not to gloat too much. He suspected he failed to hide his confidence. "I think you know what I want."

"That again?"

"Yes, that again."

"Fine." James turned toward his desk and Mark opened his bottom desk drawer. James returned armed with an Oxford Dictionary.

Mark readied his Merriam-Webster Dictionary and began the countdown. "On three. One, two," This was going to be so very good. "Three."

The two men flipped through their associated reference books. Paper flew through the air at such speed the black ink appeared gray. Streaking nouns, pronouns and verbs marched past their fingers faster than any paper manufacture ever intended.

Finding the appropriate page, Mark's index finger slid past "dorab" and disregarded the "dorbeetle." "Dorcas" received no attention and his heart raced when his finger crested "Dorcopsis." The blood left his face when "dordogne" appeared next. His eyes flicked back and forth trying to pull the word "dord" out of thin air. No, this couldn't be. He saw this word in his dictionary at home last night. The plain paper between the two entries mocked him with its whiteness. Speechless, he looked up at his rival and friend. The word wasn't there and no amount of will would force it to appear.

Sighing, James slammed his dictionary closed. "You're right. It's a word. I stand corrected."

Mark's mouth fell open. "What?"

James smiled and clutched his "defeated" weapon to his chest. "Dinner. My house, right?"

Mark nodded and wished he could ask someone to explain what just happened. "That's the bet."

James smiled again making his eyes twinkle. He leaned toward Mark and whispered, "I plan on a better dessert this time." James's breath washed across Mark's neck making the tiny hairs on his skin stand on end. "Come prepared to leave very satisfied."

Mark watched his friend walk off. Confused and slightly aroused, he wasn't sure if he wanted an explanation anymore. Still, his competitive streak pleaded for clarification. "This does, technically, count as a win for me, right?"

James waved without looking back. "Oh, you're winning all right."


MissWrite said...

No we most certainly do not!

*snicker, cough* okay, maybe we do.

ROTF @ put quotes around it and 'poof' it becomes a word. That really is too funny.

IM Cupnjava said...

I figured you'd get a kick out of that. XD

MissWrite said...

I daaarrreeee you to try it.

I double dare you. LOL

Bernita said...

I've considered "Dorp" - that cross between a dope and a dork.
Merry Christmas!

MissWrite said...

Bernita, after reading some of your articles, I really think you could slide one by and everyone would just assume it had to be real. LOL @ Dorp. I think next time I have a fight with Bob I'm calling him a 'dorp'.