A Word Lover’s Highlights of 2012
Four things that made me glad, two things that made me sad, and two things that had me shaking my head.
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I usually hate end-of-year reviews, but as I was looking back over the stories that caught my attention in 2012, much to my surprise, I truly thought they were worth reviewing.
The Final Volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English Was Published
The first big story that jumped out at me in 2012 was when Harvard University Press published the final volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) in March. It’s a huge accomplishment. A series of authors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been working on that dictionary for almost 50 years, and in March, they released the fifth volume, which contains entries from “slab” to “zydeco,” a kind of Creole dance music.
If you love the maps I make showing where people say things like their car “needs washed” or that an upscale restaurant is “spendy,” you’ll love this dictionary. It’s been used by actors to prepare for roles and by authorities to profile criminals based on their writing. If you’re a fiction writer, you might find it especially useful for finding words and phrases that give your characters an authentic regional feel.
The dictionary itself is pretty spendy, so you might want to check it out at your local library.
The final volume of DARE was also just named to Smithsonian Magazine’s list of the Top Books of 2012.
A New Gender-Neutral Pronoun Got Some Traction in Sweden
The next big story happened in April, when Sweden’s National Encyclopedia was updated to include a new gender-neutral pronoun: “hen,” (pronounced like we’d pronounce the bird’s name in English). A children’s book with the translated title “Kivi and the Monsterdog” was also published using the “hen” pronoun.
Swedish has the pronouns “han” for “he” and “hon” for “she.” They struggle with the same thing we do when we don’t know whether someone is a male or a female. People in English are tempted to use “they” as a gender-neutral singular pronoun, and now some people in Sweden have taken a deliberate step to solve the problem in their language by introducing a new word. It’s a tough thing to accomplish, but it’s interesting that they’re trying.