Some Observations

  1. There are very few researchers for this site.
  1. There is a common vision.
  1. And personal visions.

Dictionary entries seem to only communicate the second observation. Is this intended?

I don’t understand. Which is “the second observation”?

Edited to add numbering.

I wasn’t as clear as I wanted to be. But what I was getting at is that I think it’s hard for people to tell that it is just you and Talia researching for this site. And also hard to tell how each of you decide what entries to add to the dictionary.

Hi, Scott, thanks that helps, a bit.

No doubt very few people who pass through the site realize it’s 99% the work of a single word-obsessive, who now gets a welcome lifeline from a second one. I’m not trying to show off how much I can do. If it’s “pretty good for one guy,” it’s no good at all and a waste of my life.

Its old purpose was to be the online equivalent of Weekley, Barnhart, Klein, the short OED – the books I learned from offline, which weren’t online in 2000. Now that’s not needed. It would include such words as I knew or had encountered in extensive reading.

It was not unsafe to assume then that I and the bulk of internet users were of roughly similar background and education, compared to the global internet of now. My long professional work in newspapering left me with the annoying confidence that I could hit the mark of “the average reader” in terms of description and explanation.

Etymonline still emulates a print dictionary. It is no longer trying to serve the whole internet, which is not the 2000 World Wide Web and has different needs and ignorances than it had when the site began. When the site proves helpful to anyone in any way, especially one I never foresaw, I’m as delighted as I get.

No, I’m not going to add a word from your favorite adventure game, or a word from a new pop song, or the latest internet insult. I’m never, ever going to be an intellectual field-hand hoeing up obscure words one by one for a list generated by a computer.

There are drawbacks to a commercial, corporate dictionary (MW). There are drawbacks to an open dictionary (Wikis). There are drawbacks to letting one artisanal weirdo do all the work. (I had better start letting Talia define herself here.)

But you know what happens in a few years? This site, and us with it, disappears. AI will have scooped up everything. AI will then be able to gurgitate perfect answers to all the questions you see here on the forum. Nobody will want to bother wading through what that idiot Harper meant or thought he was doing.

And it will be able to answer them in the words and education level the querent already has, because AI will know what that person knows and believes and expects to be true. The answers will be much more satisfactory than mine because they will meet all expectations.

I can’t wait. Then I can have my hobby back, and finish making a vast sandcastle of ancient syllables where people who love words and the past can go rabbit-holing to their heart’s content.

another way to answer. Today, working through T- words, I added to the site head-entries or information on technonomy, teetotum, tela, telar, telaesthesia, telegraphy, teleo-, tele-talkie, telepheme, telephonable, telephone book, telephone table, telephone number, telescopy, televisual, tellable, tell-all, telo-. All are older words, 20th century or before. The site likely will get no traffic on any of those, ever. An intelligent web site would have added an entry for “Swiftie,” invented a date for it, and collected a bazillion SEO points and gone home contented in under a minute.

I agree with your resistance to “modern” words. They usually seem to have a rapid rise and fall in the living vocabulary, relegated to a sort of shibboleth of age when an older generation outnumbers a younger in conversation. I find words with a longer arc through time much more interesting (and powerful).

I do find the absence of curation acknowledgement on dictionary entries strange. You don’t seem like the type to be overly committed to a superficial display of uniformity or sterility. That’s certainly not the nature of how this dictionary has emerged. My perception is that you regard acknowledgement as somehow arrogant, but I don’t think I would take it that way.

The absent thing, “curation acknowledgment,” what would that look like?

When the site began I looked on the work as mainly compiling and translating and reporting. People ought to see the information, not me. Also, I attribute this to the Quakers I grew up around, but I prefer to not call attention. It’s that kind of arrogance, the inverted kind. Also, at the time the site began, the internet had no solid basic free dictionary of reliable etymologies, but it had a lot of mavens. I learned to dislike the taste of maven.

If anything, I’d think the eccentric quotations, the goofy asides, and the precious archaism of the entry styles would clue people in that this was something other. That and my name is on every page.

I fear that I am imposing…

It’s becoming more clear to me that I’m still learning what this site is exactly. What I’m contemplating right now relates to what you said about wanting this “to be the online equivalent of Weekley, Barnhart, Klein, the short OED”. In the case of Weekley, Barnhart, and Klein, apparently they are known by their author. In the case of short OED, by its institution.

When dictionaries are controlled by an organization, I expect the entries to evolve over time. Sort of the last bastion of genetic literature in our culture of authorship obsession. In this case, I would not want acknowledgement for entries. I think such a decision would be a category error.

p.s. I commend the resistance to hoeing around in the service of an AI.

I have no authority, no sheepskin, no title. I claim none; the want of them is a deep handicap but in some ways an advantage (or a cover) unavailable to those who have them. I wouldn’t pretend to “be” Weekley or Murray, but I could try to duplicate their usefulness by other paths. Whatever authority etymonline has, it has accumulated in the course of its use over years by everyone. If it was no good, nobody would use it.

I appreciate your questions, and don’t be put off by my blunt replies. Keep them coming; you ask good ones.