Date: Wed, 20 May 1998 17:29:43 -0400
From: Jesse T Sheidlower
Subject: Re: Among the New Words

I just want to respond briefly to some of Wayne's points, quoted
in full below. Tom and/or Wayne are under the impression that I
have somewhere promoted the idea or recording everything that one
encounters. If I have said this, it must have been in a very
different context, since this does not represent my feeling on
the subject.

As a heavy user of "Among the New Words," both in its current
incarnation and in John's collection of the past columns, I will
say that a heavy dose of citations from a wide variety of sources
is extremely helpful. While I do encourage the inclusion of a
promising term based on small amounts of evidence, I think it is
more important to document the popularity of genuinely current
words and expressions. Wayne says below that he has left out some
citations for space reasons, but I think it would make for a
stronger column if popular terms got a proportional share of

In the case of _soccer mom,_ for example, the amount of ink given
it in ANW--almost a full page--seems justified; as one of the most
prominent terms of that year, a large body of citations will make
that clear to the reader. And forty years from now, that column
may help to convince the reader at that time that its selection
as one of our Words of the Year was appropriate. (As I have written
elsewhere, though, I think that expressions like _bee's knees_ and
perhaps _soccer mom_ will remain part of our cultural identity long
after they've fallen out of active use.)

I do think that each term should be accompanied by at least two or
three citations, from different sources, if possible. With only a
single citation, it is hard to judge whether the term is genuinely
current or nonce, and whether the definition is based on that
single citation or other, unseen ones. Certainly if a word is, in
the editor's opinion, important enough to be included despite
limited evidence, it should go on, but I do not think that "listing/
recording everything that one comes across" is a good model for ANW.

I hope this makes sense; I'm running out the door and just wanted
to put in my $.02.


Jesse Sheidlower

Wayne Glowka, as forwarded by Allan, wrote:

> I have already had some correspondence with Paikeday about this subject.
> He has been concerned with some comment made by Jesse Sheidlower that
> Paikeday's method of coverage was less thorough than the method that Jesse
> has promoted of listing/recording everything that one comes across.
> John Algeo counseled me to run with the latest words even if I had only one
> citation so that the column could keep ahead of the desk dictionaries,
> which now have active new word editors and come out in newer editions
> faster than "Among the New Words" can get to press. A case in point:
> Jesse was able to get out new dictionary with "soccer mom" before we were
> able to get out the article with the same word.
> After some discussion with Connie Eble and Ron Butters, I adopted Ron's
> belief that "Among the New Words" is never out of date. Jesse can't list
> citations; we can. Freed of that pressure, I have been dipping into the
> files that I now have and citing words that may now even be obsolete after
> five years--like the one you noted yesterday. I am more interested now in
> thematic installments rather than in "coverage"--which, as Samuel Johnson
> learned, is impossible.
> One could run round and round in this argument for a long time. Paikeday's
> suggestion about three independent citations is arbitrary but useful in
> saving the editor a lot of work and a lot of paper. Electronic searching,
> however, makes it very easy to find three independent citations. When I
> was following John's suggestion of keeping ahead of the dictionaries, I was
> trying to cite as many words as possible and did not always print all of
> the citations available because of space.
> It's all a question of what we want: a lot of words or a lot of quotes.
> Whatever the case, outside of a hundred or so basic words in our language
> the other millions seem to come and go with time and tide and place.
> I imagine that a widely used term like "soccer mom" will be as
> indecipherable as "bees knees" forty years from now. However, we will have
> it and words like "cyberize" on record for some future harmless drudge's
> convenience.
> If you feel that it is appropriate to share this note with the list, please
> feel free to do so.
> Wayne Glowka