Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Word Lady Live!

This Monday I went to see Katherine Barber, the Katherine Barber, Canada's Word Lady, speak. It was awesome! For you philistines who aren't already devotees, she is the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. That weighty tome, that longtime bestseller, that source of all things verbose - as well as all of the other dictionary products: paperback, concise, etc. She's also the author of two other fabulous books: Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to Do with Pigs: and Other Fascinating Facts about the Language from Canada's Word Lady, and Only in Canada You Say: A Treasury of Canadian Language.

If you're not a reader of all things dictionary, you might also recognize her as the Word Lady, the expert they call up for word information on the CBC. That's her! She's knows everything there is to know about words. I kind of want to be her when I grow up.

So the talk. The talk was hilarious. It was informative. It was exciting. It was uplifting. It was too short. Some interesting facts:
  • Butter tart is a Canadian only word(s)! Who knew? How is the rest of the world living without buttertarts?
  • Blueberry Grunt is basically blueberry cobbler, but it is called grunt because it makes farting noises when it cooks. Ha. That appealed to the 5 year old boy in me.
  • If you look up "Hockey" in a British dictionary it defines the word as a sport played on a grassy field with sticks.
  • Anyone in the world could publish a dictionary with the name "Websters" on it. GTB the bunny could publish "Geri the Bunny's Webster's Dictionary". Legally.
  • A charitable organization in a GTA city bought $2 dictionaries called "Websters", for every single grade 3 student in that city, at Walmart (aka the Evil Empire). As it turns out, that particular "Webster's Dictionary" does not include the word "Colour" or the word "Color". It is left out entirely. OOOOooops!
  • The Canadian Oxford Dictionary is an encyclopedic dictionary, in that it contains encyclopedic information as well as word information.
  • Apparently in Saskatchewan they call hoodies "bunny hugs", which is maybe cute, but maybe a bit much, and also, I believe, means something a LOT dirtier
  • When they began work on the first Canadian Oxford Dictionary in 1992 (it was published in 1998) they started with the British version. Almost all of the words and definitions needed at least some changes - because of pronunciation, or because in Canada one meaning is more dominant than the British meaning (think "shovel" - in Canada we think of snow, the British version lists coal shovel first), or because the spelling is different. There were also thousands of words not contained in the British version which do belong in the Canadian - think of all the different flora and fauna, sports, foods, Native peoples, etc.
I enjoy the dictionary. My mom got the most recent edition of the Canadian Oxford for her birthday this year? Last year? Sometime recently. We all sat around for ages that night looking stuff up, wending our way through the book. It is delightful good fun. And don't get me started on the glories of Roget's International Thesaurus.

If you ever get a chance, go see the Word Lady. It is definitely a fun and enlightening time.


False Prophet said...

I remember a week after I started at the east end branch, I had to run Katherine Barber's visit to the library when she was promoting "Six Words". Never having run an author visit before. I picked her up at the subway station and took her to dinner and she was a delightful woman. She certainly had the small crowd in stitches.

MadJenny said...

My mom would be totally jealous that you got to have dinner with her. Like TOTALLY jealous.

False Prophet said...

What's funnier is that according to the unofficial, unwritten guidelines on these sorts of things, I shouldn't have taken her to dinner. ;-)

I wonder if dinner with Vincent Lam would have been as entertaining...