5.0172 PC Dictionary (1/69)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Fri, 21 Jun 91 16:35:47 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0172. Friday, 21 Jun 1991.

Date: Fri, 21 Jun 1991 13:06:21 -0500
From: Dennis Baron <baron@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: pc dictionary

FYI to Humanists: this is a longish entry

Well, my Random House Webster's College Dictionary is
finally here. I understand it has been flogged on CNN and
NPR and that the publishers are cleaving to the label "the
first politically correct dictionary" rather than trying to
live it down. And Humanist colleagues may be interested to
know that McGraw-Hill, which handles Random House's textbook
line, will sell students the dictionary for $8 or $9 US (w
or w/o thumb index) rather than the $20 trade price. So I
thought I'd offer a few choice examples of its politically
correct stance:

under _waiter_ we are told "a person, esp. a man, who waits
on tables." further down the page (1497) we find the rest
of the _wait_ paradigm: besides the unsurprising _waitress_
there's _waitron_, "a person of either sex who waits on
tables," which the eds. claim derives from a "b[lend] of
_waitress_ and _neutron_ (for _neuter_)." Now my
etymological sense is a lot weaker than, say, my esteemed
colleague Jim Marchand's (lucus a non lucendo, Jim), but I
know a bug from a bug and a hawk from a handsaw, and I'd bet
my _Second Barnhart Dictionary of New Words Since 1973_ that
_waitron_ is a derivative of the phrase _waiter on_. In any
case, it's not likely to come from a neutered feminine (do
they honestly think _waitress_ + _neutron_ is nonsexist?)
but from an attempt to neutralize the waiter/waitress pair.
I'm surprised there's no mention of the pseudo-classical
plural _waitri_, which I've seen on menus and in want ads.
Though we do find an entry for _waitperson_, there is no
entry for _wait_ as a noun meaning `waiter/waitress,'
another form I have seen many times (its plural is either
_waits_ or _waitpersons_).

While the verb _serve_ has as its 2nd meaning "to wait on
table, as a waiter" (why use the masculine?), there is no
definition under _server_ as a noun meaning
`waiter/waitress,' perhaps the most common alternative to
the sex-specific words in the restaurant trade (except for
the vague "1. a person who serves"). We are told to refer
to the entry for _-person_ for a usage note. Okay, turning
to _-person_ we find "the _-person_ compounds are used, esp.
by the media and in government and business communications,
to avoid the -man compounds." The entry goes on with some
examples and some further cross references.

Turning to another item, while executive editor Sol
Steinmetz claimed in the NYTimes that _Webster's_ is a
generic for dictionaries like on the order of, say,
cellophane or zipper (both orig. trademarks that have passed
into the public domain), the Random House Webster's does not
show that meaning for _Webster_. Indeed, no dictionary
seems to record it, not even _OED_, which comes close but
limits its def. to lineal descendants of Noah's _American
Dictionary of the English Language_ (1828), ie, by
implication, only the products of Merriam-Webster. As far
as I know, Merriam hasn't sued anybody lately for trademark
infringement, though perhaps lexicographers are still suit-

So my second impression, now that I own my very own, is that
while it may contain some fighting words, the Random House
Webster is not as radical as its opponents claim, or as it
might like to claim, but is at best trendy and chic, another
typical market-driven Random House product.

Dennis Baron, lexicotaster