Dictionaries Change Even Slower Than Church

By White, Michele | National Catholic Reporter, December 17, 1999 | Go to article overview

Dictionaries Change Even Slower Than Church


White, Michele, National Catholic Reporter


During Advent last year, my twin called. She was fishing for gift ideas. I told her what I'd told her many times before, that I'd always wanted a dictionary from my twin the writer. I could hear her eyes roll.

Nevertheless, last year, under the Christmas tree with a card declaring, "Ya get what ya ask for" was a 1998 Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. The dictionary was labeled as "celebrating a century of new words." It had added euro, feng shui, right-size, search engine, URL this past year.

I used my new dictionary without much thought until I looked up laity. To my surprise, I found that layman is "a person who is not a member of the clergy" while a lay-woman is "a member of the laity." I thought, "That's odd." It seemed to me that the definitions should be consistent.

On my way to another word that same day, my eye caught the picture of a cassock. Out of curiosity, I looked up the definition and found that cassocks are "worn by clergy and laymen."

Now, my curiosity went into overdrive. I looked up altar server. I could only find altar boy. Altar girl and altar server were not defined. I was incredulous. Imagine a proud little girl not finding her church ministry in the dictionary!

On a roll, I thought up more Catholic words to look up. I noticed that, like the definitions of layman and laywoman, the definitions of brother and sister were also not consistent, and neither were monk and nun. Brothers were essentially defined as "not priests," which I found very unfair to their ministries.

I was most distressed, however, by Merriam-Webster's definition of Eucharist. It defined Eucharist as synonymous with Communion, which it is not. As we lose priests, some Catholics have been confused by the distinction between Communion services and the Eucharist. Merriam-Webster's would not enlighten them. I couldn't let this pass.

The back of the dictionary listed Merriam-Webster's Web site. From there, I got a general e-mail address and sent an e-mail titled "M-W's Collegiate Dictionary -- 10th edition" into the Merriam-Webster's corporate cyberspace. The next day I received a reply from James G. Lowe, senior editor.

In our ensuing flurry of e-mail exchanges, I was heartened by Lowe's receptivity. He agreed that the definitions needed to be updated: that altar girl should be added and that feminine and masculine versions of definitions should be consistent. He did a word search to uncover all the uses of clergyman (40) and layman (9) that needed to be changed within the definitions of other words. As we continued our dialogue, he decided to assign a single editor to review all the poorly defined Catholic words that I had brought to his attention.

As I think about this experience, Margaret Mead comes to mind: "Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world, indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Dictionaries Change Even Slower Than Church
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.