Lex We Forget: A Short History of Taboo in English Dictionaries
Dictionaries are repositories of knowledge, but they are also reservoirs of ignorance. They are filled with gaps arising from what their writers don’t know—and what they don’t want their readers to know. This talk explores some of the ways that dictionaries have defined (or defied) taboo language over three centuries of English lexicography: from ‘improper words’ in Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, to handling dildo in Georgian slang lexicons, to Isaac Asimov’s resentment of the word gay in the American Heritage Dictionary, to one Merton don’s advice to the Oxford English Dictionary on how to explain the F-word in the 1960s.
As with the usual (non-Zoom) colloquia, this will be an informal event that everyone is welcome and encouraged to join! There’ll also be plenty of time for questions and discussion after Stephen’s talk.