A sad farewell

Hugh Hugh Rawson, a regular contributor to the Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog for the first two and a half years of its existence, died unexpectedly on June 1st. He was 76.

Hugh’s love of the English language was evident in his posts. All aspects of the language engaged him, and his enthusiasm came through in his writing. He also loved talking about words with others, as can be seen from the responses to readers he posted in the Comments. He loved puns and word play, and was fascinated by the ways words can be used to disguise or expose the truth. Hugh felt that people – especially politicians – are too easily tempted to obfuscate what they mean, and he was amused by linguistic efforts to disguise reality, especially with regard to bodily functions, behind “polite” terms. He understood the power that language can have, and the responsibility we all share to use language wisely, and well.

His three books about language – Rawson’s Dictionary of Euphemisms & Other Doubletalk, Wicked Words (which covers personal insults, ethnic slurs, political attacks, and the so-called four-letter words, among others), and Devious Derivations which explores folk etymologies) – are classics in the field. He also wrote Unwritten Laws: The Unofficial Rules of Life as Handed Down by Murphy and other Sages and, with his wife, Margaret Miner, co-authored five dictionaries of quotations: The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations, The New International Dictionary of Quotations, A Dictionary of Quotations from the Bible, A Dictionary of Quotations from Shakespeare, and the American Heritage Dictionary of Quotations.

Earlier in his career, Hugh worked as an editor at various New York publishing houses. I was lucky enough to land a job as his assistant when I started to work in publishing, and learned a great deal from him not just about how to deal with the text on a page (or, later, on a screen) but about how to deal with the people whose work is being published and the colleagues who are also involved in that effort. His warmth, intelligence, and decency touched everyone who came into contact with him and served as an example. It was an honor, all these years after he first took me under his wing, to be able to publish his posts and bring his insights to a new audience.

All of us at Cambridge Dictionaries Online who worked with Hugh were touched by his humanity. We will miss him, and we suspect a lot of you will miss him too. He was, to use a term from one of his last posts, a real mensch.

by Paul Heacock

The words of 2012

by Paul Heacock

As the year winds to a close, it is once again time for the staff and contributors to Cambridge Dictionaries Online and its blog, About Words, to sort through the year gone by and highlight the words and phrases that rose to prominence. In one way or another, all of these strike us as emblematic of 2012.

The new year brought some typical words to the fore, with resolution and prosperous making meteoric jumps in the number of searches for each. But many of our visitors must have had a romantic start to the year, because cuddle also became a very popular word to look up.

The second month of 2012 brought a more sober frame of mind, with words like bailout, hostile, grim and fail all getting huge upticks in searches on CDO.

In April, the phrasal verb give up made a sudden appearance at the top of our most-searched-for list. It was the only top 50 appearance for the term all year, and seems odd coming in springtime. Perhaps the searches were in reference to the financial turmoil, or to the tradition of giving up something for Lent, or to news reports in the US that month showing what people were willing to give up in order to have access to the Internet. Continue reading “The words of 2012”

The words of 2011

by Paul Heacock

As the year draws to an end, we make lists: Best Movies of the Year, Favorite Sports Moments and Key Political Events appear in national and international publications; Top Sales Reps or Most-Viewed Intranet Stories show up on corporate websites and in newsletters; many people even send out letters to friends and family detailing their personal “top events” of the year. Lexicographers, too, like to sift through the year’s work, and usually proclaim a Word of the Year. But we felt that a single Word of the Year was too limited. Continue reading “The words of 2011”