September 13, 2018
Steve and Kory have a special treat this week: the first half of our interview with lexicographer, author, bon vivant, raconteur, and damn fine human being Jesse Sheidlower. He talks about how he was sucked into the gaping maw of lexicography by Lord Byron's "tool," inadvertently became the hero of a novel set at Random House, wrote this little book called The F Word that resulted in the accidental utterance of said f-word on NPR and the constant-forever debunking of "Fornication Under Consent of the King," and told Steve Martin that all us word nerds adored his "Disgruntled Former Lexicographer" essay in The New Yorker.
This episode features cusswords, in the event that a book called The F Word didn't give that away.
- Jesse's words to live by: "Anytime someone says to you that something's from an acronym, if you say 'No, it's not,' you'll be right 100% of the time."
- NPR voice, now with extra vocal fry!
- Why too much grad school is bad for you. (Drop out NOW.)
- Kory asks Jesse The Worst Question Ever and is appropriately called out for it.
- Mispronunciation Index: NONE, because Jesse and his gorgeous pronunciation of "roman à clef" is here to save us all.
August 28, 2018
all·sorts ('ôl-ˌsôrts) noun plural : a mixture of assorted confections (such as licorice); often used figuratively
Today's episode is an assortment of colorful treats that, like licorice allsorts, stick unpleasantly to your teeth and coat your tongue with a weird film! In a figurative way. Steve and Kory dig into the mailbag and answer YOUR QUESTIONS about crowdsourced dictionaries, reading rooms, raisins, the plum brandies of central Europe, multilingual dictionaries they love, and lung diseases.
- Steve and Kory went on the tee-vee and you can watch the fruits of their lexicographical labors here.
- SPACE GHOST guest appearances (sort of).
- Learn how to say "Merry Christmas" in Yiddish!
- Mispronunciation Index: none that we caught, but do let us know how very wrong we are!
August 9, 2018
If you've been listening to this podcast, you know that mistakes happen. In the case of this particular podcast, they happen often! And they happen in dictionaries, too. We hope you were sitting down when we told you that. This episode is alllllll about mistakes. Steve and Kory issue corrigenda/errata for earlier episodes (and Kory can't figure out the difference between "corrigenda" and "errata"), then take you through the byzantine processes by which dictionary errors are discovered and corrected. It involves paleography! Kory talks about the biggest boner (sense 2) to appear in a Merriam-Webster dictionary; Steve tells us about the time when he had to find all the lowercase c's which had been mysteriously converted to small capped lowercase c's. And they give you handy tips on how to tell a dictionary company that you found an error without being an absolute unit of jerkery.
- Steve talks more IPA, and we ain't talkin' beer.
- Steve and Kory reminisce about the glories of blue proofs.
- "Banks and banks and banks and banks" is the new "stacks on stacks on stacks on stacks."
- Stamper Mispronunciation Index: "corrigenda," but she's blaming FIVE YEARS OF LATIN on that one. Also, Steve says "a error" completely naturally and it is beautiful.
July 26, 2018
What kind of a person writes dictionaries for a living? It helps to have what Steve calls "an early awareness of language." It's Old Home Fortnight at Fiat Lex, where Steve and Kory talk about growing up around other languages, studying German and Czech during the fall of Communism, which dictionaries they grew up with (Random House '66 REPRESENT), and why it took Steve decades to learn the English word for "wooden spoon." While wandering through the highways and byways of language, we also touch on the minutiae of preparing for a career in lexicography, then promptly crush the dreams of hopeful lexicographers everywhere.
- "Whom! WHOOOMMM!"
- "Máte ústřední topění!"
- Steve and Kory talk about what horribly inappropriate things they read as tender and impressionable youth, which explains a lot of this podcast.
- Stamper Mispronunciation Index: none, though Kory makes a "much" for "many" mistake, so don't bother writing in to tell her. And yeah, she knows her Finnish is terrible.
July 12, 2018
Think you might be good at this lexicography racket? This episode will change your mind--or, at least, it should if you had any sense whatsoever. A good chunk of the job is mastering some of the most mundane publishing details imaginable, and that includes the subject of today's episode: the dots in the mid·dle of the head·words in your dic·tion·ary (or dic·tion·ar·y, depending on which of the damned things you're using). Steve and Kory discuss what those dots are and why they matter; Steve goes full nerdcore while dropping some head-smackingly obvious etymology; and Kory shares a major discovery which will alter the very fabric of lexicography as we know it!1
1 Not really, but it sure is fun to think such a thing is both possible and interesting enough to merit an exclamation point.
- What the hell is that weird logo we use on Twitter? Steve has all the answers and they involve the word "fricative."
- Kory pretends to sing and it only sounds a little bit like a kazoo rendition of Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.
- Sick of political arguments? Here's a point-counterpoint you can invest in.
- Mispronunciation Index: NONE, ABSOLUTELY NONE. Not even the one that Kory assumed was an error.
June 28, 2018
Lexicographers have a tweaked view of the language, and that includes hard words. No, not those hard words, like “koinonia” and “marocain” (Spelling Bee shoutout!). It's the small words are the ones that make lexicographers weep. Steve and Kory take a look back at some of the hard words they've defined, and along the way, Steve talks parts of speech and forks up the conversation in the best possible way. Kory drops some nerd history about Latin and dictionaries, as she is wont to do. Colors are invoked (with an assist by Steve Martin), as are the Muppets, and God shows up as well. And we learn that Steve should have been a cartographer while Kory freaks out about directions.
- P45! Multiple appearances thereof and the dirty secret behind it.
- Goofus calls us “lower-class slobs”; Gallant says we “had humble beginnings.”
- Mispronunciation Index: one. Just the one.
June 14, 2018
Lots of people use dictionaries not for the definitions--who cares about those?--but for the pronunciations. Steve and Kory talk about how those pronunciations came to be, and why the pronunciation editor gets to watch TV all day instead of getting a REAL JOB. They explain what that stupid bananapants alphabet that American dictionaries use for pronunciations is, drop some hot history on how pronunciations got into dictionaries, and go very inside-baseball on how editors figure out which pronunciations to include when they get stuck. Kory talks about Walter Cronkite and lingerie; Steve talks about flaps. And if that wasn't enough, did you know that dictionaries enter the "noo-KYOO-lur" pronunciation of "nuclear"? They sure as shootin' do!
- Arthur the Rat!
- Tattoos! (Steve's, not Kory's)
- The dankest of nerd memes
- Stamper Mispronunciation Index: 1 intentional, 1 unintentional, 1 disputed
May 31, 2018
If "irregardless" isn't a real word, then why the hell is it in my dictionary?!? It's a matter of philosophy. Steve and Kory give a primer on descriptivism and prescriptivism, two approaches to describing language, and how modern dictionaries are descriptivist (which is exactly the opposite of what everyone believes). They recap the culture wars of the 1960s, which gave rise to the American Heritage Dictionary; discuss the AHD Usage Panel and what it does; lament the state of modern dictionary marketing; and gab extensively about where people can get themselves some of that sweet, sweet prescriptivism they long for.
- Kory and Steve offer to stage-fight at your conference;
- Steve introduces you to the best dictionary marketing video known to humanity (and YOU ARE MOST WELCOME);
- Steve amazes Kory w/r/t Romanian;
- Stamper Mispronunciation Rundown: "biases"
May 17, 2018
Welcome to Fiat Lex, a podcast about dictionaries by people who write them! Yes, really.
Meet Kory and Steve, your intrepid and nerdy lexicographer-hosts who will give you the drudge's-eye view of English and dictionaries in all their weirdness. In our first episode, we:
- blow your minds by telling you that "the dictionary" doesn't exist;
- talk about how new words get into dictionaries (not by petition, so STOP ASKING) and how that's not as straightforward a process as you would think;
- explain how lexicographers find new words, which sometimes involves beer and diapers;
- touch on how words get taken out of dictionaries, and how that's not as straightforward a process as you would think, either. Assuming you think about such things. (Who are we kidding here?)
- Kory spells a word aloud correctly, which will probs never happen again;
- Steve channels Chumley the Walrus and then goes right into fancy linguist talk about velars and coronals;
- Tennessee represents!