S1: The following podcasts contains explicit language.
S2: Hello, I’m Nicole Holliday, a linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania,
S1: and I I’m Ben Zimmer language columnist for The Wall Street
S2: Journal. And this is spectacular vernacular, a podcast where we not only explore language.
S1: We also play with it.
S2: This week, our special guest is Michael Adams of Indiana University Bloomington. We’ll be talking about the amazing collection of dictionaries that belong to the late Madeline Kripke, the so-called dame of dictionaries.
S1: And later on, we’ll be joined by Stefan Fatsis, co-host of the Slate’s Sports podcast. Hang up and listen. We’ll be challenging Stefan with a wordplay quiz that combines his love of sports and dictionaries.
S2: So Ben, I hear you’re a big fan of one Miss Taylor Swift, who’s recently been back in the headlines for rerecording all of her albums after her label wouldn’t let her have the Masters.
S1: I guess you wouldn’t call me a swifty, exactly, but I do have a deep appreciation. I think of Taylor’s oeuvre. So yeah, you know, I recently stumbled upon a piece by Olivia Craig head over at Gawker, and it had this headline that said Taylor Swift is lying about all too well, 10 minute version Taylor’s version.
S2: But Taylor wouldn’t lie to us like that.
S1: I know it’s it’s kind of a bold accusation, but this Gawker piece questions Taylor’s claim that the original version of her song all too well was always 10 minutes long, as opposed to the five minute version that appeared on her album Red. So she’s just rerecorded this whole album, and this 10 minute version has been released as part of that. So Taylor is saying now that she wrote the whole thing a decade ago, and we’re only now getting to hear it in its ten minute glory.
S2: I mean, I like Taylor and everything, and this is cool, but I thought we were doing a language podcast. Not that Taylor Swift hour.
S1: OK, well, hear me out, because it turns out that the evidence that Gawker uses against Taylor is linguistic. This is a linguistic story, actually. What? Well, here’s the deal. So Olivia Craig had argues that it’s unlikely that Taylor wrote every bit of the long version in 2011, as she seems to be claiming in interviews that she’s done. And it’s all because of one particular line in the song We. Tossing me the car keys,
S3: but the Patriarchy keychain on the ground, we were always.
S1: And I was thinking, OK, so at issue here is Taylor, its use of the phrase Fuck the Patriarchy. So in the Gawker piece, it’s rightly pointed out that this phrase fuck the Patriarchy has indeed increased in usage over the last decade or so. And in the in the piece to sort of bolster this claim, they use Google Trends. Also in the piece, it relies on the fact that supposedly Taylor didn’t really enter her feminist stage until 2014 or so.
S2: OK, so I get it like we can use tools like Google Trends, which show how searches have changed over time, sort of how much certain words have gone up or down in interest. But it doesn’t mean that Taylor had never heard of fuck the Patriarchy before 2011, just because it wasn’t as popular, right?
S1: I mean, like Google Trends, what that actually measures is it just spikes in people’s searches for words and phrases on Google. It’s just measuring search interest. Basically, it doesn’t tell you when people actually started saying those things, so it’s not the greatest tool to use for this argument. And so I just wrote a piece for Slate, actually, which you can find linked in the show notes, and I talk about how I found uses of this phrase Fuck the Patriarchy going all the way back to wait for it. 1989 That’s the year that even casual fans know is the year that Taylor Swift herself was born, so this makes fucked the Patriarchy, at least as old as she is. But you know, to be fair, you know, a lot of the early examples I was turning up starting in 1989 and going into the 90s there in, you know, kind of, let’s say, LGBTQ publications, for instance, feminist deans, maybe not what young Taylor was reading way back when when she was a kid. But I still think that, you know, this whole history that you can find for this phrase means we can’t rule out the possibility. She really did write that lyric back in 2011.
S2: Yeah, and Taylor is a cool young woman, and we know from a lot of linguistic studies that young women tend to lead language change. So she was probably ahead of the Google Trends Curve.
S1: I wouldn’t be surprised.
S2: This is always an issue, right? We’ve run into the perennial problem of trying to date with new phrases have entered public use or at least public enough use for Taylor to use them so well. Tools like Google Trends can be useful for seeing increases or decreases in interest in a term over time. They can’t tell us how words and phrases were moving through the different communities at specific points in time. So in this case, the linguistic evidence against Taylor claim is circumstantial at best.
S1: OK, well, I’m glad you agree that Taylor’s truthfulness remains at least somewhat intact. But, you know, regardless of whether she wrote those exact words a decade ago or not, there is another linguistic angle to all of this. And that’s because the line in the song actually has to, or at least two possible interpretations. So the song goes. And you were tossing me the car keys. Fuck the Patriarchy keychain on the ground. So some people have taken that to mean that the unnamed love interest, which is of course, widely assumed to be Jake Gyllenhaal, was saying Fuck the Patriarchy as he tossed her the car keys. But another reading of the line is that it’s literally a fuck that Patriarchy keychain that is a keychain that says Fuck the Patriarchy on it. And that’s what ends up on the ground.
S2: I find that second line less plausible, especially given the rise. And fuck the Patriarchy being interesting sort of in the last decade like to have the production of a fuck. The Patriarchy keychain that she could have owned in 2011 is a stretch. And also just contextually, it makes more sense that he would have thrown her the keys so she could drive and said it. But anyway, we can’t know what was in her mind, and all of this gets into what linguists and philosophers of language called the use mentioned distinction. So either the guy allegedly Jake was using the phrase Fuck the Patriarchy and Taylor is reporting that, or the phrase is just mentioned as the thing on the keychain. So all of this leads to another question. Could Jake have even gotten his hands on a keychain like that 10 years ago?
S1: I don’t know about that. It does seem less likely. You’re right about that. And Taylor is just muddying the waters now because if you go to her website in the merch section for this reissued rerecorded album, read Taylor’s version. You can actually buy a fuck the Patriarchy keychain, although they put a little asterisk in the U for fuck. So, you know, cleans it up a lot. Yeah, much better that way. But I mean, you know, maybe whenever she wrote this line, she just liked the internal rhyme of Patriarchy and car keys. You know, that’s kind of nice. And she had just left the line intentionally ambiguous. And now, of course, she’s capitalizing on that ambiguity.
S2: I really like this because it could mean that like both meanings are true in the future. So if you were to buy the keychain, you could also have the Fatsis Patriarchy keychain and toss it to someone while saying, Fuck the Patriarchy. And so then it doesn’t really matter. There you go. I’m glad we were able to address these mysteries using linguistics after the break, we’ll be back with Michael Adams to discuss one of the world’s coolest dictionary collections.
S1: Welcome back to spectacular vernacular. For many years, many connoisseurs of dictionaries, including me, made their way to a pilgrimage site of sorts in Manhattan’s West Village. It was the apartment of Madeline Kripke who earned her nickname The Dame of Dictionaries. That two bedroom loft was stuffed to the rafters with a jaw dropping array of English language dictionaries. Many of them incredibly rare and valuable. She also filled a few storage facilities with all of her lexicon, graphical treasures, and all told, she had more than 20000 items, the largest private collection of dictionaries anywhere in the English speaking world.
S2: On April 25th, 2020, Madeline Kripke passed away at the age of 76 from coronavirus complications in a long, affectionate obituary. The New York Times noted one question that none of Miss Kripke is reference books answers is what will happen to her collection. The obituary quoted her brother, the philosopher Saul Kripke, who said unfortunately, it appears that no clear plan existed for her collection. We are now in touch with some of her expert friends for advice
S1: so serious dictionary lovers awaited news of what might happen to Madeline Kripke his collection, and we finally found out last month on October 16th, and that’s recognized as Dictionary Day because it’s Noah Webster’s birthday. The announcement came from Indiana University Bloomington, and it makes sense that Indiana would be the institution to acquire the Kripke collection since the school’s Lily Library was already renowned for its dictionary holdings. The acquisition was arranged by Michael Adams Provost, Professor and chair of the English Department at Indiana University Bloomington, and we’re very happy to have him as our guest for this episode to tell us all about the wonders of the Kripke collection. Welcome, Michael.
S4: Well, thank you for having me. It’s great. I’m always excited to talk about the quirky collection, so
S2: you and Ben were both lucky enough to visit Madeline Kripke at her Greenwich Village apartment when she was still alive. Could you describe what it was like to step into that apartment?
S4: OK, now this is very interesting to call because in fact, I never visited the apartment.
S1: Oh, I just assumed that you had.
S4: I know everybody as soon as I did, and I did not visit the apartment because I am not an urban person like that and many of Madeline other friends and make it to New York City about once every 20 years. So our chances of a visit were pretty slim. What we did instead was correspond a lot, and once pictures were available from phones and things like that, she would send me pictures of things. We we talk about the stuff via email. So my my knowledge of the visit comes from the accounts of all the other people who made visits. And so I have a sense of what they were like. People will go in and they had a curated experience. It was as curated as the collection itself because she had to go through all of those items and full the things she thought were most interesting to the folks who were visiting, or if they had a particular purpose and had contacted her about that, she would pull the things that were relevant to the visit, right? So she would do that. And people have said, I mean, no disrespect to Madeline for this because it was a lot to manage on her end. Everybody felt that there was a little bit of a dance going on. You know that these things have been pulled out and they were shown these things and there were all kinds of other things. They wanted to see that they couldn’t see those things. And I don’t know about them, but my understanding is that there was no grazing in that apartment where you walked around and you looked at them. But for me, it was maybe in some ways luckier, because what I got to see was not what Madeline pulled because I asked about it, but because she suddenly had something that she wanted to share. And she thought that I was the person to share it with. So I feel fortunate in that.
S1: Well, when I got to visit, I don’t know if she was really pulling things out for me so much because it turned out we had a shared interest in the history of American slang. And so that was all over the place. She didn’t have to pull things out. In fact, she had an entire wall of slang that was just, you know, covering everything from, you know, the jargon of pickpockets to, you know, hep cat slang of the 30s to Valley Girl Talk. And just like this amazing array just covering an entire wall. So, you know, I would just sort of like feast my eyes on all of these amazing treasures that she had picked up over the years. And I remember seeing one particularly rare and valuable item. It’s a book by Allen Walker read, and it was published in a very limited run in 1935 with an innocuous sounding title. The title was lexical evidence from folk epigraph in western North America, a gloss aerial study of the low element in the English vocabulary. But what it really was was a collection of vulgar slang, vulgar language that Allen Walker Reed had collected from bathroom graffiti Michael. Maybe you could tell us a little bit more about that particular title.
S4: Yeah, well, it’s an amazing project. Allen went on vacation. With his family on a few occasions to national parks in the west of the United States about the time he was doing it, people still thought that Iowa and Minnesota and places like that were sort of in the West, and that’s the area he was from, but without further west, even in the British Columbia to some parks. And what Ben described as really, truly was the natural lexicographer he had pad and pencil always at hand. He went into one of the outhouses he saw the graffiti there. He copied it down and suddenly, and this is in the late 1920s, you had, you know, not quite what we would call a corpus today, but something to work from. And he was able to pull the evidence together into this little book, of which seventy five copies were made in that time the 1920s. You couldn’t publish that book in the United States, so it was published by French Publishing House, and Allen brought several copies of the book back with him by steamship, but he left some behind to be sent to him just in case the censors at the harbor found all of the books and threw them all away, right? It is the smallest printing with the biggest impact of any book. I know because it’s a very celebrated book, and anybody working on slang or profanity has to have access to it. The good news was that in the 1970s, Reinhold Armond, who was the editor of Madeline Victor, which was the Journal of Bad Language, decided to publish it in his book series. And so it’s been available as a paperback since then, and lots of people have had access to it in the way that they wouldn’t. We haven’t found it yet. We haven’t unpacked any of the boxes yet, but I assume that her copy of lexical evidence was Allen Walker read copy
S2: Madeline Kripke, who died before she could make plans for where the collection would go. And how did you make sure her collection would remain intact and that the Lily Library at IU would be its home?
S4: Well, the first question how it remained intact is down to a group of people Saul Kripke, Madeline brother, consulted with. I mean, I guess Saul, a great deal of credit. I mean, here he is, you know, suddenly stuck with over 20000 books that he never wanted to have any responsibility for, but he wanted to preserve Madeline’s legacy as she would want to preserve. And so he asked a group of her dictionary friends, right what to do with it. And the one thing everybody agreed on was keep it intact because it’s a curated collection. It’s not just a bunch of books that she picked up the stories, you know, and then put into a room. It was something she really groomed. So he was very willing to keep it together in the end, but that did mean that it couldn’t go out to sale. And I think that that’s what Madeline friends were most concerned would not happen. Could one might ask one, get a better return on all of these books if one sold them at auction through a record of the auction house? Well, the answer to that probably is yes. And so forgoing that and agreeing to give it as an intact collection was a bit of a sacrifice on the part of that estate, but I think really showed Saul’s goodwill. The second question is also fun to answer, and I have fun answering this because I’ve had the advantage here of helping serving a friend of mine at the same time that I’m serving the language professions at the same time that I’m serving Indiana University. I was in these conversations with Song and I suddenly just realized one day what the estate was up against in terms of, you know, IRS guidelines and probate guidelines and things like that. And how do you appraise or have appraised over twenty thousand dollar books and a manuscript collection and other things in time to meet those deadlines? The answer is you can’t really. And so I teach at a public university, even though it’s a pretty well-heeled one in the library, has its own resources. But the question was could something this priceless actually end up at a public university library? Would we have the means to do it in the end, putting the director of the library and the libraries together that it was all affected, that agreement, that this was the place for it to be? The critical issue, besides keeping it intact, was making it broadly available. The Lily Library is a public university library. It’s really true that if you’re just walking down the street and you want to look at an old book, for some reason you can go in and register as a citizen and have access to all but the rarest items in the collection. And that meant that Madeline collection would be available to the person on the street, as well as to scholars. That’s what she would have wanted. And that’s one of the things we helped to preserve.
S1: So in addition to all of the books and pamphlets and ephemera that Madeline collected, she also got her hands on a lot of historically significant correspondence and business records relating to Merriam-Webster, America’s most famous dictionary company. Could you tell us a bit about what is now known as the Merriam-Webster Archive that forms an important part of the cryptic collection?
S4: I can’t tell you a whole lot because in fact, I’ve not seen it, and I don’t think many people have seen it in its entirety when I say many people, so I think no one’s seen it in its entirety, probably besides Madeline, but it guess. Would you describe it’s early 19th century correspondence and business records, according to the brief description, we have been on file now. I guess the signature piece in the whole collection is the letter between the Miriam brothers about the advisability of buying the old Webster’s dictionary and trying to make it into a commercial success. They have the insight that a dictionary could be like the Bible or a textbook. Some other things that they published that were high volume sales and that’s what they did. They didn’t want to pick up some niche product and try to peddle that in the dusty road book market of the time, right? But they thought, well, a dictionary. Maybe every home ought to have a dictionary in the same way that every home ought to have a Bible. And that insight that led to their killing really with the dictionary over the 19th and into the 20th century. And that piece of correspondence is preserved in that archive, along with a whole bunch of other stuff.
S2: Michael Adams, thanks so much for being with us, and after the break, it’s time for some wordplay.
S1: Welcome back. Now it’s the time in the show where we play with language and
S2: as we’ve done for the past few episodes, we’re going to be challenging one of our fellow slate podcasters to a wordplay quiz. This time around, we have Stefan Fatsis, one of the hosts of Slate’s sports podcast Hang Up and Listen. Stefan is the author of two sports related books, Wild and Outside about a Renegade Minor League in Baseball and A Few Seconds of Panic about his time training as a place kicker with the Denver Broncos. But perhaps most important for our purposes. He’s also the author of Word Freak, Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players. Welcome to the show, Stefan.
S5: Good to be here, Nicole. Thanks for having me.
S1: So Stefan, along with your passion for Scrabble and other word games and word puzzles, I happen to know you are also a dictionary buff. And earlier in the show, we were talking to Michael Adams about Indiana University acquiring the unparalleled collection of Madeline Kripke, the dame of dictionaries. Do you happen to have any memories of Madeline Kripke that you would like to share with us?
S5: Oh, I do. I visited Madeline three times in her apartment in Greenwich Village when I was working on researching a book about Merriam-Webster, which I’m still working on. And it was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my reporting life walking into her apartment. You were just awestruck. I mean, both by the mass and by the absolute encyclopedic collection and knowledge that Madeline displayed and the passion she had for language. She sat me down at this tiny little desk in the middle of the chaos and had prepared all of these documents about Merriam-Webster, which she then took me through page by page with this exacting knowledge of everything because she had transcribed these letters from the 19th century by herself and then figured out what it all meant. She was a remarkable woman.
S2: Speaking of your work on this Merriam-Webster kind of project that you’re working on, are there any words in particular that you’re proud of defining either ones that have been added to the dictionary already or ones that haven’t been added yet?
S5: I am proud to say that I got into the dictionary. I defined microaggression and safe space and alt right among a handful of others. I got about a dozen into the dictionary during my couple of years as a faux lexicographer working for Merriam-Webster or embedding at Merriam-Webster. And then I defined about like, you know, 80 more that didn’t get into the dictionary. And among those my two favorites that I hope someday will make it are the gender neutral pronouns Z and XY, which I totally think should be in the lexicon and also would be real great additions for Scrabble.
S1: The official Scrabble Dictionary relies on Merriam-Webster as one of the sources for what officially counts as a word and Scrabble. And I remember back in 2014 you wrote a piece for Slate called These Sports Terms Should Be Playable and Scrabble, and I remember you asked me for some sports terms that hadn’t yet entered Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and you made a strong case for one word post HiRISE, which you also noted has a Scrabble playable anagram poet Taser’s. And that actually ended up being one of the words that you got to define and is now in the dictionary, if I’m not mistaken, right?
S5: It is in the dictionary. Yeah, that was very exciting. Poster rights had been in the dictionary, but it meant to like, make a poster like to turn something into a poster about the sports. Science was added not too long ago.
S2: Well, we have a wordplay quiz for you that combines your love of sports and dictionaries like poster size. The answers to all of the questions will be sports related terms that have been added to Merriam Webster’s dictionary in recent years. We’ll give you some hints from the definitions of the words, and since you’re a Scrabble and you like anagrams. We’ll also give you clues for anagrams or near anagrams of the words. How does that sound?
S5: Sounds challenging. Always got to lower the bar.
S1: This is right up your alley. Stefan You got this. OK, here is one to start. This first one is a word that, much like pasteurize are pasteurization refers to an embarrassing situation on the basketball court. It’s seven letters long so good for Scrabble, and it can be used as a noun or a verb, and it has an anagram that is a famous brand of pasta.
S5: Yeah, I think I know this one. I didn’t define it myself, but the answer is airball.
S1: And what would that anagram be? Barilla, which I guess is not playable in Scrabble because, you know, brand names are not not allowable, right? No, but there you go. And so Airball is in Merriam-Webster as a noun and a verb. But I guess it’s only the verb which really would work for Scrabble because it’s that closed compound, right without a space
S5: takes a front hook of an h, though I think hairball is good,
S1: and it’s not surprising you got that one so quickly since your hang up and listen. Co-host Josh Levin did a deep dive into the history of the Airball chant in basketball back in 2016.
S2: Next up is another Scrabble friendly seven letter word. It’s a word for something in sports that’s bad for a player to be on and good for a player to be off. And here’s your word play clue. If you had a T on the Scrabble board, you could combine it with the letters of this word to form an eight letter word, meaning revealed secrets about someone.
S5: This is a tough one. It’s good to be on, bad to be off. How many letters again?
S2: So it’s seven. If you added a T to it, then it would be another word, meaning revealed secrets about someone
S5: you are on. It’s one word, huh?
S2: So if we gave you the anagrams and told you the anagram is snitched, not SCHNEID.
S5: Yes, that’s it. Oh OK. What was the eight? The definition of the word snitch?
S2: So we said if it was seven and then you added a T, which would make it eight.
S1: Here’s your next one. There’s a four letter word that was added to Merriam Webster’s dictionary a few years back, and it commonly gets used with another Four-Letter word to form an angry, athletic phrase. That first Four-Letter word is a short form of a seven letter word that has a bunch of anagrams and Scrabble, including a word for people who might work on dictionaries
S5: and people who Michael work on dictionaries.
S1: Who are those people? Call their
S1: editors, indeed,
S5: and then give me the sports clue again.
S1: The seven letter word that you can be shortened to a four letter word which was recently added to the dictionary.
S5: Royd was recently added and seven is steroids.
S1: And then combining it with another Four-Letter word gets you that angry athletic phrase, which would be roid rage, roid rage. These are all recent additions to the dictionary. Of course, steroid was there for a long time, and since you’re a Scrabble player, why don’t you give us all of the possible anagrams for those letters?
S5: Tripods, editors sorted and storied?
S2: OK, we have one more for you, and it’s a tough one. This time we’re looking for a six-letter word recently added by Merriam-Webster. It’s the name of a modified form of soccer that you might find in Latin America, and it has two anagrams. One that could refer to imperfections, or one that could refer to a bodily eruption.
S5: OK, I know the Spanish word. Oh, good. The Latin American.
S1: I think it’d be Spanish or Portuguese
S5: or Portuguese football is the answer. Futebol Well,
S1: actually, that’s not quite it. You have the first three letters, right? But in this variant of soccer, it’s a different kind of game. That’s like soccer, but not always
S5: said by the Oh, it’s football. There you go. I knew that that was added recently. Yeah.
S1: So spell that out for us and also tell us the anagrams if you got those.
S5: It’s f u t s a l. There you go. Yes, faults is the imperfection, and the bodily eruption would be
S1: also starting with F.
S5: Also starting with F would be
S1: something that’s expelled from the bowels. Let’s say flatus. Flatus, there you go.
S2: So the way that Merriam-Webster has defined football is a game developed from soccer that is typically played indoors between two teams of five players each and whose object is to propel a round ball into the opponent’s goal by kicking or by hitting it with any part of the body, except the hands and arms. So I learned this today from the Spanish football sala or football that they sell on or Portuguese football. This allow half football.
S5: Football is interesting because it’s basically played with a ball that’s a little bit heavier, so it doesn’t bounce as much. So indoor soccer can be played with a regular soccer ball, but that bounces crazily like a regular soccer ball. The football balls a little smaller and a little heavier.
S2: Well, well done on this quiz, Stefan, and thanks so much for coming on and playing.
S5: Like, I should have done much better, like the pressure
S1: you did great. Now we have a challenge for all of our listeners. Merriam-Webster recently added an entry for a two-word phrase used for a precarious kind of rock climbing. It can be used as a noun or a verb, and it has also been used as a movie title. Add the letter C to this phrase, and you can anagram it to make a word that might be used for repossessing a house. Think you’ve got it? Send your answer to us. It’s spectacular at Slate.com with Quiz in the subject line of your email. Please include both the two-word phrase and the word that it can anagram to. If you add the letter C from the correct entries will randomly select a winner who will receive a Slate Plus membership for one year. Or if you’re already a Slate Plus member, you’ll get a one year extension on your subscription, and we may bring you on the show to face a new wordplay challenge. Once again, that spectacular at Slate.com with Quiz in the subject line and please respond by Midnight Eastern Time on December 1st and in the email. Tell us where you’re from to. We’re very pleased to announce the winner of the contest from our November 9th episode. Dan Marks of Denver, Colorado, figured out that the 1956 doo wop song title hiding the names of two philosophers is stranded in the jungle. A song made famous by the cadets. The two philosophers names hiding in the title are Rand as an Ayn Rand and young as in Carl Jung. Congratulations, Dan.
S2: Thanks to Stefan Fatsis for joining us. That’s it for this week. We hope you’ve enjoyed the show if you have. Remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. If you’re subscribing on Apple Podcasts, please rate and review us while you’re there. It helps other listeners find the show. And please consider subscribing to Slate Plus. Slate Plus members get benefits like full access to all the articles on Slate.com. Zero ads on any Slate podcast and photos. Episodes of shows like Slow Burn, Decoder Ring and One Year. It’s only $1 for the first month. To learn more, go to sleep dot com slash spectacular.
S1: Plus thanks again to Michael Adams for being our guest this week. Spectacular vernacular is produced by Jasmine Ellis Asia Saluja is managing producer and Gabriel Roth is editorial director for Slate Podcasts.
S2: We’ll be back in two weeks with more spectacular vernacular. Thanks for listening.