I'm really happy to be a Powell's guest blogger/guest lexicographer this week. I'm going to try posting a little bit about how dictionaries are made, a little bit about other reference books that are well worth your attention and shelf space, and a little bit of ranting. (Never turn down an opportunity to rant.)
In fact, maybe I'll start with a rant. I mentioned to a friend that I was going to be guest-blogging here, and he said, "You know everyone will be scared to comment on your posts, right? Because they'll be worried their English isn't 'good' enough?"
"Oh, HMOG," I said. (I like to use internet-chat abbreviations in spoken conversation, don't you? HMOG = "Holy Mother of God!") "Do I EVER correct anybody?"
"No," he said, "But they don't know that. They just know 'lexicographer.' If that."
So here's my official disclaimer. Comment away. I don't correct people's English unless I'm asked to (or unless you are my six-year-old son, and last time I checked, he wasn't reading blogs, much less commenting). That's because lexicographers ('people who make dictionaries' ? there, I saved you from having to look it up) aren't Language Enforcers. They're Language Observers. If monitoring English were a U.N. peacekeeping operation, we'd be allowed to hand out food and take notes, but not shoot anyone.
I'm not interested, lexicographically, in Perfect English. (In fact, I'm not even sure it exists.) What I'm interested in is changing English. What are the new words? What are the old words being used in new ways? Are nouns getting verbed, or adjectivized? That's what I want to see. I want to see English at the fuzzy boundaries, at the edge, not the safe stuff in the middle. Then I can describe it, and keep watching for more.
So feel free to comment with your stump-the-lexicographer questions (please note: I don't know where "the whole nine yards" came from, nobody does. Sorry!) or, if you're shy, you can always email your questions or new word sightings to email@example.com.