How words get into the Oxford English Dictionary

I have seen the word "linguaphile" (meaning word lover or language lover) on and the Free Dictionary, but it's not there in the Oxford English Dictionary. It no longer tries to be comprehensive. "The language is expanding so fast this may be an impossible mission," said Edmund Weiner, deputy chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Mark Abley recalls their conversation in his book, The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English, where he also writes about Singlish and other variants of the English language, as I mentioned here.

"The Internet poses problems," said Weiner. "We tend to avoid citing the Web unless we feel we really have to. What we've tended to cite are newsgroups and discussion groups – they guarantee to archive them for a long time. We've occasionally taken quotations from websites. But we don't like doing that."

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Amit Chaudhuri, The Immortals

Amit-Chaudhuri It's been a long time coming. Except that Amit Chaudhuri wouldn't have used those words sung by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

The gifted Indian writer,who teaches contemporary literature at the University of East Anglia, prefers Indian classical music.

An accomplished singer himself, he pays homage to the music in The Immortals.

Now don't  let that turn you off a wonderful novel.

Even though I know nothing about Indian classical music, I was drawn irresistibly into the story.

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India many nations, not 1 nation: Lee Kuan Yew

Lky_on_charlie_rose What will India say to this? Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has said what the Kashmiri insurgents and other separatists in northeastern India have maintained all along.

India is not one nation, he said. "It's many nations."

"It has 320 different languages and 32 official languages," he said on the Charlie Rose show.

Can Singapore then be regarded as one nation? It, too, is a multiracial country with four official languages — Chinese, Malay, Tamil and English.

But there is one difference that gives Singapore perhaps a better claim to be a nation — almost everybody understands English.

India, on the contrary, as MM Lee said, has "320 different languages and 32 official languages.

"So no prime minister in Delhi can at any one time speak in a language and be understand throughout the country. You can do that in Beijing."

Ah, that was how he wandered into a political minefield.

Charlie Rose wanted his opinion on China and India.

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Safire goes out


I loved William Safire — on language. He wrote about the English language with the authority of a pundit.

He was not as witty and amusing as Fowler; he did not have that lightness of touch.

But he was awesome in his encyclopaedic knowledge of language and grammar.

He reminded me of another famous American journalist, HL Mencken. One was as feisty and erudite as the other.

In Singapore, he will be remembered for his run-ins with the government. He criticized Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and the judiciary in this 1995 New York Times article. But later when they met at Davos in 1999, the interview ended with Safire saying,"Well, I enjoyed it. I hope you did, too", and Lee Kuan Yew laughing: "You are not a silly man, and I don't give you silly answers."

What I enjoyed, however, were Safire's New York Times columns on language.

What a coincidence that he wrote a column on "channelling" only three weeks before his death yesterday.

He was 79 and suffering from cancer. (The Nixon speechwriter and columnist remembered by his colleagues at the New York Times.)

No one can channel him, not the way he riffed off Hillary Clinton's ticking off a Congolese student who asked her what her husband thought, "I'm not going to be channelling my husband."

Spirits, mediums, Ouija boards, all found their way into that column — and poetry too.

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