Monday, April 03, 2006

ACDC 2006 - Day 3 (3/25): Word Craft

Erin McKean. Editor, Oxford American Dictionary

Erin McKean, Everything, in Alphabetical Order
- editor in chief of American Dictionaries for Oxford University Press
- lexicographer, "dictionary evangelist"

- the dictionary is not the Social Register of words
- it's a toolbox, containing words that are useful

- scientist (data) + reporter (annual report of the state of the language)

Building a corpus
- building up to a billion words
- consists of running text (not dead butterflies, in context, the whole article, in the wild)
- what gets in : KWIC (keyword in context), gHits (Google test)

Ergonomic organization
- the way people think
- the first definition is what people think of

She wants a designer to redesign OED
- dictionary has not changed in 100 years
- (e.g., La Petit Larousse Illustre 2005, French dictionary illustrated by Christian Lacroix)
- give raw data, specs, XML
- mentioned visual thesaurus as example

"I make up words at Scrabble. Who's gonna challenge me?"

Jimmy Wales: Knowledge Craft

- Wikipedia goal: Free encyclopedia for everyone

- 50% of all edits done by 0.7% (615) of all users (English WP)
- most active 1.9% have done 72.8% of all edits (across all versions)

- confusing but workable mix of consensus, democracy (sometimes), aristocracy, monarchy (Jimmy)
!- emphasise results over process; flexible about social methodology

Billy Collins, Poet Laureate

Billy Collins: The Poet's Craft
- U.S. Poet Laureate 2001-2003

Read his poems - beautiful

"Good art is the negotiation between you and the form"
- haiku's form "pushes back against your tantrum"

Litany - hilarious love poem

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker

and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.

There is just no way you are the pine-scented air.
It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close

to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner

nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,

that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley,

and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow-- the wine.

Lanyard - this one almost made me cry

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly off the blue walls of this room
bouncing from typewriter to piano from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the "L" section of the dictionary
Where my eyes fell upon the word, Lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist could send one more suddenly into the past.
A past where I sat at a workbench at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake,
Learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard.
A gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard.
Or wear one, if that's what you did with them.
But that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand,
Again and again,
Until I had made a boxy, red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts, and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
Lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
Set cold facecloths on my forehead then led me out into the airy light,
And taught me to walk and swim and I in turn presented her with a lanyard.

"Here are thousands of meals" she said,
"And here is clothing and a good education."
"And here is your lanyard," I replied,
"Which I made with a little help from a counselor."
"Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
Strong legs, bones and teeth and two clear eyes to read the world." she whispered.
"And here," I said, "is the lanyard I made at camp."

"And here," I wish to say to her now, "is a smaller gift.
Not the archaic truth, that you can never repay your mother,
But the rueful admission that when she took the two-toned lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
That this useless worthless thing I wove out of boredom
Would be enough to make us even."


I pour a coating of salt on the table
and make a circle in it with my finger.
This is a cycle of life,
I say to no one;
This is the wheel of fortune,
the Arctic Circle.
This is the ring of Kerry
and the White Rose of Tralee.
I say to the ghosts of my family,
the dead fathers,
the aunt who drowned,
my unborn brothers and sisters,
my unborn children.
This is the sun with its glittering spokes
and the bitter moon.
This is the absolute circle of geometry
I say to the crack in the wall,
to the birds who cross the window,
This is the wheel I just invented
to roll through the rest of my life,
I say,
touching my finger to my tongue.