LEXICOGRAPHER, n. A pestilent fellow who, under the pretense of
recording some particular stage in the development of a language, does
what he can to arrest its growth, stiffen its flexibility and
mechanize its methods. For your lexicographer, having written his
dictionary, comes to be considered "as one having authority," whereas
his function is only to make a record, not to give a law. The natural
servility of the human understanding having invested him with judicial
power, surrenders its right of reason and submits itself to a
chronicle as if it were a statue. Let the dictionary (for example)
mark a good word as "obsolete" or "obsolescent" and few men
thereafter venture to use it, whatever their need of it and however
desirable its restoration to favor -- whereby the process of
impoverishment is accelerated and speech decays. On the contrary,
recognizing the truth that language must grow by innovation if it grow
at all, makes new words and uses the old in an unfamiliar sense, has
no following and is tartly reminded that "it isn't in the dictionary"
- -- although down to the time of the first lexicographer (Heaven
forgive him!) no author ever had used a word that _was_ in the
dictionary. In the golden prime and high noon of English speech; when
from the lips of the great Elizabethans fell words that made their own
meaning and carried it in their very sound; when a Shakespeare and a
Bacon were possible, and the language now rapidly perishing at one end
and slowly renewed at the other was in vigorous growth and hardy
preservation -- sweeter than honey and stronger than a lion -- the
lexicographer was a person unknown, the dictionary a creation which
his Creator had not created him to create.
God said: "Let Spirit perish into Form,"
And lexicographers arose, a swarm!
Thought fled and left her clothing, which they took,
And catalogued each garment in a book.
Now, from her leafy covert when she cries:
"Give me my clothes and I'll return," they rise
And scan the list, and say without compassion:
"Excuse us -- they are mostly out of fashion."