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The story of ain't : America, its language, and the most controversial dictionar
David Skinner
Adult Nonfiction PE1617.W43 S58 2012

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Humanities editor Skinner, who is on the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary, offers a highly entertaining and intelligent re-creation of events surrounding the 1961 publication of Webster's Third New International Dictionary by G. & C. Merriam. The dictionary, assembled at a cost of $3.5 million, included a press release from Merriam's president Gordon J. Gallan, which said the work contained "an avalanche of bewildering new verbal concepts." The new dictionary embraced informal English in 450,000 total entries, including 100,000 new words, including clunk (from Mickey Spillane), cool (from jazz), and snafu (from WWII). Editor Philip Gove's break with tradition, the refusal to distinguish between good language and bad, outraged academics and editorial writers, setting in motion what Skinner calls "the single greatest language controversy in American history." A Chicago Tribune headline announced "Saying Ain't Ain't Wrong." Life labeled Webster's Third "a non-word deluge," and it was vilified as "literary anarchy." To probe why it triggered such volcanic eruptions, Skinner shows how Gove sought to construct a modern, linguistically rigorous dictionary and details how Dwight Macdonald and other critics sought to destroy it. The result is a rich and absorbing exploration of the changing standards in American language and culture. Agent: Rafe Sagalyn Agency. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Library Journal:

Webster's Third New International Dictionary (W3) was published in 1961. Press reaction was harsh, and the public debate on the subject was included in James Sledd and Wilma R. Ebbitt's Dictionaries and That Dictionary (1962). W3's treatment of ain't was particularly scrutinized thanks to misleading material distributed by the publisher's press agents. Criticism focused on W3's lack of "prescriptivism," i.e., that the dictionary should make judgments on what's proper and what's not. Skinner is editor of the National Endowment for the Humanities' Humanities magazine, and this book began as a 2009 article there. That article was a good, concise discussion. In book form, Herbert Morton's The Story of Webster's Third (1994) thoroughly and learnedly covered all this. Skinner's book, on the other hand, flits among topics and spends endless pages on the life story of Dwight Macdonald, the critic who wrote a long, damning account of W3 in The New Yorker-the book is as much about Macdonald as anything else. VERDICT Readers will be better served by the two books named above. This one is unorganized and quite shallow.-Michael O. Eshleman, Kings Mills, OH (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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