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August 17, 2012 12:46 PM Subscribe
Evocative definitions of colors in Webster's Third New International Dictionary and how they got there.
posted by Cash4Lead (13 comments total)
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A chance encounter with the definition of the word "begonia"--"a deep pink that is bluer, lighter, and stronger than average coral (sense 3b), bluer than fiesta, and bluer and stronger than sweet william"--leads Kory Stamper, a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster, to become enamored with the ornate descriptions of colors in Webster's Third: Prior to “begonia,” the Third was a middle-aged management man with a Brylcreemed combover, in well-pressed shirt-sleeves and pants that were a bit too tight at the waist, full of busy self-importance. Now, he was the same middle-aged manager, but unbeknownst to the rest of the office, he danced flamenco on the weekends.
Webster's Third owes its idiosyncratic approach to color to the color theorist Isaac Godlove
, who had worked on color definitions for the Second Edition and was hired by lexicographer Philip Gove to update them for the Third Edition.
Stamper's description notwithstanding, Webster's Third has been highly controversial since its publication in 1961. It has been both praised and condemned
for its supposed permissive attitude toward language usage, including allowing in words like "ain't" and "irregardless". It was famously excoriated
by David Foster Wallace in Harper's
in 2001--though as MeFi's own languagehat has said
, his polemic is based on gross misreadings of Gove's work.
For more on Webster's Third, see Herbert Morton's The Story of Webster's Third: Philip Gove's Controversial Dictionary and its Critics