the intentions and methods of a lexicographer

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“Most early commentators on the Dictionary felt compelled to reflect on the author’s efforts in producing the work – not surprising, of course, for a lexicographer’s intentions and method’s are particularly relevant to the work’s authority and the critical reference within which the book may be understood, used, and interpreted.” Allen Reddick, The Making of Johnson’s Dictionary 1746-1773, 1993.

I do not wish to compare myself to Samuel Johnson, only to address what Reddick says about the intentions and methods of a lexicographer. I consider myself more of a lexophile than a lexicographer. The task I’ve set for myself is nothing compared to what Johnson did. I have countless dictionaries to consult that build on his work and others. To reinvent the English Dictionary from scratch would be pointless.

Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709 [O.S. 7 September] – 13 December 1784), often referred to as Dr Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer.

Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709 [O.S. 7 September] – 13 December 1784), often referred to as Dr Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer.

I’ve discussed my intentions elsewhere in this blog and on my crowdfunding page, but for those of you who are new to the Dictionary Project I will recap. The Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties is an instructive resource for Victorianists, especially authors of historical fiction. It was inspired by authors’ questions about what to make their characters shout, when they wanted to say “fuck” in the 1800s. Depending on the character you are writing, the answer may very well be ‘fuck.’ That is what my dictionary sets out to teach you.

My methods for writing the dictionary involve consulting other dictionaries and thesauruses, as well as researching the ways in which words were used in the literature and press of the time. University libraries, Project Gutenberg, and online newspaper databases provide examples of how words were used. Oxford’s Historical Thesaurus is especially helpful, and I recommend it. It covers the entire history of the English language, whereas my little book will only cover 100 years – and only the words that need an explanation on usage.

Sir James Augustus Henry Murray (7 February 1837 – 26 July 1915) was a Scottish lexicographer and philologist. He was the primary editor of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1879 until his death.

Sir James Augustus Henry Murray (7 February 1837 – 26 July 1915) was a Scottish lexicographer and philologist. He was the primary editor of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1879 until his death.

Currently, I’m struggling with the construction, style, and layout of the thesaurus section of my dictionary, but am constantly working on and reviewing every part of this book. If you have any ideas, questions, or suggestions, feel free to contact me.

What am I fundraising for? The Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties will hardly be a reliable resource if I don’t have a second and third pair of eyes edit the thing. I started the Dictionary as an eBook project, which is inexpensive, but I will be creating promotional materials, covering the cost of the design, and am working on a business plan to create hard copies for those who want them. In the meantime, I am absorbing costs myself, as I do not wish to go with a conventional publisher, who would increase the cost to you, my reader. I intend to give away lots of free downloads. I want the finished product to make it into the hands of everyone who can use it!

Support the project through my GoFundMe page, or visit my shop.


Propaedeutic Cyborgs, or Why I Wish James Harbeck Wrote Victorian Fiction

A word isn’t much good if it can only mean one thing at a time. – James Harbeck

James Harbeck is a blogger I admire. We share an interest in language, and I think he’s better at it than I am.

I strive to give words character, but he effortlessly cooks them up, infusing them with flavours, and smells. ‘Propaedeutic‘ tastes like Donna Haraway’s Manifesto of the Cyborg, and smells like the university campus where I first read her. My language is populated with ruffians, like the people in the pub on that campus.

To be propaedeutic is to be very cursory, but, as Harbeck points out, using this word will make you sound professorial in the way my old roommate hated. Use of the word, ‘propaedeutic,’ is for those who have been exercising their use of English words for a very long time. ‘Cursory’ even sounds a little heuty teuty. Use the word ‘superficial’ and you will sound more judgmental, and less worthy of harsh judgement.  Use a string of other words that basically mean the same thing, and you will sound like a noob, or in Victorian:

newie n. (1856) a noob

I wrote about being new to English yesterday. Newie-ness brings fresh eyes on an old conversation. Fresh perspectives make language interesting.

Though he might be a better writer and I admire him so, Harbeck isn’t better than me (I tell myself); we serve different lexicographical purposes. As I’ve been told in my Blogging 101 course, my lexicographical purpose is strange. It’s like I’m building a time machine, so that I can take writers back over 115 years and introduce them to their verbal ancestors.

Old Robot Header

I’ve been treating words like characters because my role is to introduce them to you, so that you (all of you wonderfully talented Harbecks) can reintroduce them to the reading public with all of their multiple meanings and flavours. It is exactly because I admire other people’s writing so much that it is so important to me to finish the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties.

Support the project through my GoFundMe page, or visit my shop.


English is Strange


English is strange. Communicating through letters on a screen is strange too. Eventually, if my words are lucky, they will make it to the printed page, where readers can be alone with them.

Reading other people’s words on this screen leads me to the bottom of the virtual page, where little white boxes tempt me to tell other writers what I think of their words. Today’s assignment was to give into temptation four times.

leave a thoughtful comment

This assignment took much longer than I expected.

I fell in love with a phrase:

the lexically luxuriant luminary – sesquiotica

In the end, I remembered that just because a comment is long and well-written doesn’t mean it was well-considered. My last comment was probably the most thoughtful, and it was only three sentences long. The original post reminded me of the members of my family who still struggle to conjugate sentences in English, though it was beautifully written.

My Dutch grandmother reads faster than I do and recreationally more often, but is reluctant to write a letter in English. Yet, she has uttered some of the wisest most beautiful strings of English words I have ever heard – all in an accent.

Past versions of English are strange, but I want them to be fun. That is why I write about making up your own Victorian colloquialisms. There’s playfulness in the art of writing Victorian dialogue in the twenty-first century. That’s why I am writing the dictionary. The more we understand the words, the stranger they become.

Support the project through my GoFundMe page, or visit my shop.


Dear Historical Fiction Author


We write historical fiction because it is easy to relate to situations from the past. Stories set in the past, whether closely related to something that actually happened, or not, speak to the present. Moreover, we tell our stories from the present. Feelings are timeless.

The human experience is timeless. In writing my novel, I related to my protagonist’s frustration with her love interest’s refusal to show as much interest in her as he had previously. The feeling I thought my readers could relate to was akin to waiting for a text message. The post was the 1890s equivalent to contemporary text messages. To convey the feeling correctly, I transposed that sense of frustration from repeatedly checking your iPhone to repeatedly checking the mail. The post came more frequently in 1890s London, so it was easier than I imagined, and I was happy with the result.

I want to help you tell your story. I don’t think I am better at telling stories than you are. You may have written more than I have, but I’ve been researching the Victorian era for over two years now.

My dictionary is much more than a collection of words. Words have contexts. The word ‘anthropoid’ carried different connotations in the latter part of the nineteenth century than it had in the first. ‘Deadlily’ sounds like a dead flower, but conveyed the sense of something more like a zombie to Victorians. These words provide layers of meaning. Some (not al) of your readers will get that and it will add richness to your text.

These words can also be fun and very specific.

I’m not creating this dictionary to make money. I would like to give it away for free as much as I possibly can. I would like to find ways for relevant historical society’s to use it as a fundraising tool. I want to help you write your stories. I want to hear your questions and feedback. If I can’t answer your questions, I will probably be able to find someone who can.

As I’ve been blogging about my research, and asking the internet my own questions, I’ve found support from academics and researchers all over the world, who have shared source material with me that I wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else. I want to give back. If you are anything like me, you are my ideal reader.

Find me on Twitter @TinyApplePress

Support the project through my GoFundMe page, or visit my shop.


I am a Crutcha Crackerjack

10612638_10154527398360574_6075079706575648719_nMy 2015 New Year’s Resolution is to finish the Dictionary Project. With my novel, I’ve found blogging to be a supportive tool for the process, and am participating in Blogging 101 to bring the some of the success that I’ve had with Writers in London in the 1890s to my Dictionary Project. That’s what I’m doing, not who I am.

I am a disabled scholar and writer. Doctors recommend that I don’t drive or go anywhere by myself because I have memory lapses and get lost. Some days are harder than others. I get bored easily. Boredom is my biggest fear, and memory lapses contribute to boredom by making it harder for me to read a novel. It was, at one time, difficult for me to admit that I was having trouble reading stories. My educational background is in history and literature, so reading stories used to be one of the things that I did best. Now, I often get bored going backwards through books to find the last thing I remember reading.

Some days are harder than others. I had a particularly bad spell some time ago. It wasn’t just difficult to read; it was difficult to write. I couldn’t hold on to complex ideas long enough to capture them in words. Thankfully, I’m married to the best man in the world, and only had to worry about being bored at this time. Even in the fog of my own brain, I know he is there for me.

To keep from going mad with boredom, I decided to read and write about individual words that could help me with my larger project later. My work at that time was crutcha

crutcha adj. (1834), imperfect and put together quickly

I was developing a long list of useful words, and was visiting message boards, where writers were asking about Victorian slang, and I began to realize that I was building something bigger than the little pieces of time that my memory could cobble together. What I was doing was crackerjack and so was I

crackerjack n. and v. (1895) something that is exceptionally fine or splendid. Also, a person who is exceptionally skillful or expert.

I wanted to know if this was something I should share with the world. @rshepherd1964 took time out of his busy far away life to proofread everything, and encouraged me to proceed with the project. He had lots of suggestions. I still have lots of work to do. With help, I will I finish in 2015.

Support the project through my GoFundMe page, or visit my shop.