Monday, December 10, 2012

Clueless Partisanship

When Mine Host was a nipper in school, one dictionary that we were not allowed to use was the "Macquarie Dictionary".

The teachers would not allow it, for exactly the same reason we kids loved it:  It contained all the swearwords, obscenities, foul language plus any & all "rude" words.

Oxford was the only dictionary allowed, though Cambridge was not actively discouraged.  Webster was prohibited on the grounds of being being the anti-christ (as it should be - Mine Host is a John Quincy Adams supporter, and thus of the belief that Noah Webster should have been thrown down a well or something.)

But Noah Webster, even if incredibly misguided, was at least fair dinkum about language.  The teachers at school recognised his (misguided) efforts, but regarded the Macquarie Dictionary as nothing more than a sick joke.

Credible dictionaries are collaborative efforts by a large group of scholars.
The Macquarie dictionary has only ever had input from pretty much one person.  Ever.

This fact was not known when we were at school.  It became obvious several years later when the person who writes it made a series of television appearances, salaciously using foul language, right there on TV, without a thought for decorum or decency.

Mine Host, watching this, thought: that ain't a bad way to get out of being arrested for using foul language, or being hauled before some commission for swearing on TV; write yourself a dictionary, put all the obscenities into it, then strut around in public using those same words.

When the public was shocked by the language used, the author of this dictionary feigned ignorance, and cluelessly stated (paraphrased): "I didn't realise words such as Faaahk, Can't, & others were considered bad"

Being too clueless to realise some words are too foul for television, or decent society, is not what one should profess, not when one aspires to being an arbiter of the English language.

There are also significant differences between the Macquarie definition of many words, and the Oxford/Cambridge definition of those same words.  One can imagine Mine Host's distress upon arriving at a courthouse for a hearing, to discover that the Australian courts use the (choke) Macquarie dictionary as the final arbiter of a definition.  Oh-My-God!

Given the above mentioned public demonstrations of cluelessness by the author of that dictionary, Mine Host knew how reliable the Macquarie was going to be.

This brings us to the recent incident that brought reputational fallout to the Macquarie dictionary such that it likely will never recover any of the former gravitas it may once have held:

The Prime Minister used a word wrongly in parliament.  (Yep, the same Prime Minister who is a qualified lawyer, a profession that owes its very existence to the fact that words have meanings, didn't know the correct definition of a word!)

This caused the Prime Minister some embarrassment.

The author of the Macquarie Dictionary sprang into action, announced that the meaning of this word had "changed", thus the Prime Minister had been "correct".

This event had an air of rushing in to protect an ideological comrade, rather than an authentic attempt to codify our language.

So the committee (cough) of the Macquarie Dictionary had an extraordinary meeting to change the definition of this word, thus making the Prime Minister "right".

This sort of stuff used to happen in the Soviet Union.

It does not happen in free countries.

The pages of the Macquarie Dictionary are too small to use for dunny paper, but they are of just the right size to use for rolling cigarettes.


JeffS said...

Sounds like great tinder for emergency fire starting as well.

silverwolf1954 said...

Good morning Mine Host,

I echo your sentiments and school experience.

One thing I have found out from your comments is that the Mq Dic. was the work of one person.

When you get a chance I would appreciate if you could email that person's name please.

It has potential relevance for something I am doing in a group that I am involved with.

Trust business is good for you and all the best to you and yours for Christmas and the New Year.

Kind Regards

Steve at the Pub said...

JeffS: Good point, I'll never find out though, as newsprint is so much cheaper & more readily available!

Silverwolf: Those wishing to be emailed would be well advised to know.. provide an email address!
However, in this case google will be your friend.
The information you seek isn't difficult to find.