John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/, at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/, and now at https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/columnists/mcintyre/
Sunday, April 7, 2013
We, who used to think of ourselves as a great and puissant nation, find ourselves unable to come up with the ready for the continuation of a long-running academic project that establishes something central about our greatness as a nation: the richness of our language.
There are locutions in DARE that Mark Twain would have recognized. There is language that I recognize from my people in rural Kentucky. My people come from people who never exercised much in the way of political power or wealth or cultural influence, but who had the right of the humble to add to the fabric of the national language. And it is the Dictionary of American Regional English, through the dedication of generations of volunteers and scholars, that gave them the dignity of recording their contributions.
Now we find that Joan Houston Hall, heir to Fred Cassidy and the other members of the American Dialect Society who started this project, is reduced to begging for small change to keep at least a part of the operation functioning.
We see every day people wearing American flag lapel pins and prating about their patriotism. A true and sincere patriotism, one that properly understood who we are and where we came from and why it is important to know this, would not allow the lights to go dark at DARE.
But now an appeal from the editor, Joan Houston Hall, has come out, and the whole project is in dire straits. She writes, "We were not awarded federal and private grants we had anticipated receiving; private gifts have declined precipitously; a major foundation that has provided a large gift annually for twenty years has decided it must move on to other worthy projects; the UW has endured grave reductions in state support, and the College of Letters and Science is unable to provide assistance."
As a consequence, the staff of the dictionary is to be given layoff notices, effective July 1.
This is her appeal: "To let language mavens and fans of DARE know that if they’d like to help us, it’s easy to do. The home page of the DARE website (www.dare.wisc.edu) has a “Donate” button. It will take readers to a secure University of Wisconsin Foundation site through which tax-deductible gifts can be given to DARE."
DARE is an ornament to scholarship and learning, an invaluable repository to the vigor and inventiveness and quirkiness and color of our national language. We have the full six volumes, but to lose the digital edition and to forfeit the continuing scholarship of the staff would be a calamity, a loss not easily repaired, if ever.
So I am repeating Joan Houston Hall's appeal to you, in hopes that you, my readers, lovers of our language, will be moved to do something, however modest, to ensure that "Zydeco is not the end."