What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

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Gavin Chipper
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What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Tue Mar 26, 2013 9:45 pm

I was thinking that Countdown must be brilliant advertising for the Oxford dictionaries, so I don't think it's unreasonable to write to them making suggestions for improvements in later editions regarding the relevance of their dictionary to Countdown. I'm not saying they would be compelled to take everything on board, but I think it's quite reasonable to write to them. I also think it would make sense for several people to write their own letters, so it doesn't look like one crank. Several topics have come up recently, so I think it would be good to get them all together, so we all have all the information in one place if we want to write. That's right - I'm suggesting that we all write to them. I'll have a look through some threads and see what I can find, and hopefully some others will do the same.

Links: http://wiki.apterous.org/index.php?title=Disputed_words
http://www.apterous.org/ticket_view.php?ticket=1639
Last edited by Gavin Chipper on Thu Jun 27, 2013 6:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Graeme Cole » Tue Mar 26, 2013 9:54 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:I was thinking that Countdown must be brilliant advertising for the Oxford dictionaries, so I don't think it's unreasonable to write to them making suggestions for improvements in later editions regarding the relevance of their dictionary to Countdown. I'm not saying they would be compelled to take everything on board, but I think it's quite reasonable to write to them. I also think it would make sense for several people to write their own letters, so it doesn't look like one crank. Several topics have come up recently, so I think it would be good to get them all together, so we all have all the information in one place if we want to write. That's right - I'm suggesting that we all write to them. I'll have a look through some threads and see what I can find, and hopefully some others will do the same.
I think they should have an "[incomparable]" tag on single-syllable adjectives which cannot take -er and -est. At the moment it says that comparatives and superlatives of single-syllable adjectives are considered regular and are not shown. In some cases this is obviously nonsense - since PISSED and COOKED are both listed as adjectives, this implies you can have PISSEDER/PISSEDEST, COOKEDER/COOKEDEST, etc. Even if you were to say that adjectives that are past tenses of verbs can't be extended in this way, you could still come up with things like LASTEST.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Tue Mar 26, 2013 10:10 pm

Graeme Cole wrote:
Gavin Chipper wrote:I was thinking that Countdown must be brilliant advertising for the Oxford dictionaries, so I don't think it's unreasonable to write to them making suggestions for improvements in later editions regarding the relevance of their dictionary to Countdown. I'm not saying they would be compelled to take everything on board, but I think it's quite reasonable to write to them. I also think it would make sense for several people to write their own letters, so it doesn't look like one crank. Several topics have come up recently, so I think it would be good to get them all together, so we all have all the information in one place if we want to write. That's right - I'm suggesting that we all write to them. I'll have a look through some threads and see what I can find, and hopefully some others will do the same.
I think they should have an "[incomparable]" tag on single-syllable adjectives which cannot take -er and -est. At the moment it says that comparatives and superlatives of single-syllable adjectives are considered regular and are not shown. In some cases this is obviously nonsense - since PISSED and COOKED are both listed as adjectives, this implies you can have PISSEDER/PISSEDEST, COOKEDER/COOKEDEST, etc. Even if you were to say that adjectives that are past tenses of verbs can't be extended in this way, you could still come up with things like LASTEST.
On comparatives and superlatives, there is a problem with what counts as one syllable. Words like SOUR and FRAIL have two syllables as most people say them, but most people don't think of them like this and would automatically assume that SOUREST and FRAILEST would be valid. So I think they should be explicit with words like this.

Edit - Also, I think some people seem to think that's it's OK to disallow a comparative or superlative if it says "[attrib.]", but this is not stated anywhere as far as I can see. But this would come under Graeme's catch-all system.
Last edited by Gavin Chipper on Tue Mar 26, 2013 10:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Tue Mar 26, 2013 10:20 pm

Mass nouns is an obvious one. When can they be pluralied?

Also derivatives/variant spellings and words don't get the same treatment as the main word. You get a lot of -NESSES words on Unlimited on Apterous - words that would be mass nouns if they had their own entry. Most of these are probably over nine letters though. I'm trying to think of an example that wouldn't be. Also this discussion here about whether POUFIEST should be allowed based on POOFIEST being in and POUF being a variant spelling of POOF. Also derivatives that end in Y. Basically in general enough information should be given about derivatives so you can work out what it a word and what isn't.

Edit - Also on derivatives, I believe the plural of PIVOTMAN isn't specified.
Last edited by Gavin Chipper on Thu Mar 28, 2013 8:53 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Graeme Cole » Tue Mar 26, 2013 11:02 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:Also derivatives don't get the same treatment as the main word. You get a lot of -NESSES words on Unlimited on Apterous - words that would be mass nouns if they had their own entry. Most of these are probably over nine letters though. I'm trying to think of an example that wouldn't be.
WETNESSES. Also DRYNESSES but that's got too many consonants to come up on the show.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Brian Moore » Tue Mar 26, 2013 11:45 pm

Graeme Cole wrote:
Gavin Chipper wrote:Also derivatives don't get the same treatment as the main word. You get a lot of -NESSES words on Unlimited on Apterous - words that would be mass nouns if they had their own entry. Most of these are probably over nine letters though. I'm trying to think of an example that wouldn't be.
WETNESSES. Also DRYNESSES but that's got too many consonants to come up on the show.
FATNESS would work for length, but all such -NESS words describe a state of being, and I think it's that that prevents them being pluralised.

These letters to OUP could get philosophically and logically quite complicated.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Dave Preece » Wed Mar 27, 2013 5:31 am

Gavin Chipper wrote:I was thinking that Countdown must be brilliant advertising for the Oxford dictionaries, so I don't think it's unreasonable to write to them making suggestions for improvements in later editions regarding the relevance of their dictionary to Countdown. I'm not saying they would be compelled to take everything on board, but I think it's quite reasonable to write to them. I also think it would make sense for several people to write their own letters, so it doesn't look like one crank. Several topics have come up recently, so I think it would be good to get them all together, so we all have all the information in one place if we want to write. That's right - I'm suggesting that we all write to them. I'll have a look through some threads and see what I can find, and hopefully some others will do the same.
Great idea!

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Jojo Apollo » Wed Mar 27, 2013 7:19 pm

I would tell them to get rid of silly words like LOSINGEST and DELIA and put in proper words like MOTELIER and put OUTDARE(S) back in. :P

Out of interest why is there an exclusive deal with Oxford dictionaries anyway? Chambers and Cambridge etc dictionaries would work just as well.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Brian Moore » Wed Mar 27, 2013 7:53 pm

I did actually write to Susie & Countdown via the programme email to ask how in practice the Oxford corpus works - how much discretion there is in the choices. Why LOSINGEST should be in there, with 42,000 Google hits, when ^LAGGY isn't (6,200,000 hits), completely baffles me.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Charlie Reams » Wed Mar 27, 2013 8:13 pm

Pretty much anything from DW would be a good place to start.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Jon Corby » Wed Mar 27, 2013 9:36 pm

Charlie Reams wrote:Pretty much anything from DW would be a good place to start.
I thought that meant David Williams before I hovered.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Jon Corby » Wed Mar 27, 2013 9:37 pm

Jojo Apollo wrote:and put in proper words like MOTELIER
And MOTELIEST, obviously.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Jojo Apollo » Wed Mar 27, 2013 9:41 pm

Jon Corby wrote:
Jojo Apollo wrote:and put in proper words like MOTELIER
And MOTELIEST, obviously.
:lol: Obviously.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Mar 27, 2013 10:07 pm

Jojo Apollo wrote:I would tell them to get rid of silly words like LOSINGEST and DELIA and put in proper words like MOTELIER and put OUTDARE(S) back in. :P

Out of interest why is there an exclusive deal with Oxford dictionaries anyway? Chambers and Cambridge etc dictionaries would work just as well.
I'm not too bothered personally about the words they do and don't have (not with this thread's hat on anyway), but just about how explicit they are about what is a word and what isn't.

But I did think of subtly mentioning about this exclusive deal, but in a positive way. Something like "Countdown uses your dictionaries because of how good they are at enabling words to be adjudicated, and this is obviously a very important factor, so you'd better get your arse in gear if you want to keep the contract". I might change the last bit though.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Mar 27, 2013 10:13 pm

Charlie Reams wrote:Pretty much anything from DW would be a good place to start.
Yep. Good link.

By the way, something I probably wouldn't mention is the SALMONS/RAVIOLIS debate, because I think it's not that the dictionary is unclear, but that Dictionary Corner have made incorrect decisions in the past.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Thu Mar 28, 2013 8:55 pm

I think it was also decided that there isn't a distinction made between a variant spelling and a variant word (specifically for whether something is a US spelling), like with ASSHOLE.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Apr 17, 2013 9:41 pm

I might be tempted to mention the FLORUITED/EXEUNTED thing, but that seems to be more of a Countdown thing than anything to do with the dictionary although I seem to remember some talk of there being communication with the dictionary people.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Thu Jun 27, 2013 10:11 pm

I sent them an e-mail (see below). Obviously you can send your own too, either basing it on mine or not. I also got an automated response (also below). I sent it to odo.eds@oup.com taken from this site.
I am a viewer of the show Countdown, and your dictionaries have been an invaluable resource to me over the years because of your long-term relationship with the programme. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on the consistently high quality of your dictionaries.

Obviously many words are not explicitly listed in the dictionary because their existence follows from a headword and certain standard rules. For example, "cats" is not listed because it is the standardly formed plural of "cat". However, there are certain grey areas where it is not entirely clear what the intention of the dictionary is regarding a potential word's existence.

In everyday use, it might not be necessary to determine precisely whether the dictionary considers something to be a word in every case. However, the game of Countdown does require this precision, in order to avoid the adjudicator from having to make arbitrary and potentially inconsistent decisions. This level of precision would make it clear why your dictionaries deserved to continue as the exclusive Countdown reference books. The grey areas fall into a few categories, and I will detail them below.

Mass nouns - This is a common cause of contention. Although it does state at the front of your dictionaries that there are senses in which some mass nouns can be pluralised, it is not always entirely clear, and I would ask that where the dictionary considers a mass noun pluralisable, it is specified in every case.

Comparatives and superlatives - It is not always clear which adjectives can form a comparative and superlative. For example, it is stated that where an adjective has just one syllable, the comparative and superlative will not be listed as they are considered regular. However, it is not always clear whether a word should be considered to have one or two syllables. For example, the words "frail" and "sour" are arguably best described as having two syllables in the way that most people say them. The comparatives and superlatives of these are not listed, but still considered by most to be valid on Countdown. I would ask that for such borderline syllable-count words, the intention of the dictionary is made clear as to whether they can form a comparative and superlative.

There are also cases where an adjective is also the past tense of a verb, e.g. "cooked" and "pissed". The comparative and superlative of these might look and sound ridiculous but there's nothing in the dictionary to suggest that they should be treated any differently from other one-syllable adjectives. In these cases, I would ask that the intention of the dictionary be explicitly stated in each case, or under a catch-all rule at the front of the dictionary.

The comparative and superlative of adjectives such as "feint" and "last" would arguably make little sense, although nothing in the dictionary prohibits them. If there are one-syllable adjectives that cannot form a comparative or superlative, I would ask that this be specified. There are certain terms relating to adjectives that the dictionary uses, such as "[attrib.]", "[predic.]" and "[postpositive]". It is arguable that in some of these cases there should be no comparative or superlative. However, this is not specified.

In general, I would ask that where there could be any doubt, the dictionary always makes it clear whether an adjective can form a comparative and superlative.

There are also some cases, where it is unclear how the comparative and superlative should be formed. Although in some cases where the final consonant is doubled, it is specified, e.g. "fatter" and "fattest", there are other cases where one would expect a doubling where it is not specified, e.g. the adjectives "fab", "rad", "kif" and "kef".

US spellings - Although this is not a case of whether the dictionary considers something to be a word, Countdown has a rule that US spellings are not allowed but that US terms are. In some cases it is not entirely clear whether something is considered to be a term in its own right or a just a variant spelling.

Derivatives - Where a word has listed derivatives, they are not given the same treatment as the headword, so it is not always clear what words can be formed from them. For example, "dry" and "wet" list "dryness" and "wetness" respectively as derivatives. These are both listed as nouns, but not as mass nouns, which they presumably would be if they were headwords themselves. The words "drynesses" and "wetnesses" may look and sound ridiculous, but there is no rule preventing their use on Countdown. "pivotman" is listed under the entry for "pivot" and therefore not given the same treatment as a headword. Its plural is not mentioned, and unless specified, it should be "pivotmans" rather than "pivotmen". This is also a problem for derivative nouns that end in "y", since we cannot know whether the plural should be "-ies" or "-ys" based on the dictionary's own rules.

This can also be a problem for alternative spellings. For example, "poof" has "pouf" and "poove" listed as alternative spellings. "poofy", "poofier" and "poofiest" are also listed as derivatives. It may be clear how the equivalent derivatives can form from "pouf", but it is less so with "poove".

I would ask that any derivative words that are not listed as headwords themselves are specified in enough detail so that it can be determined exactly what is considered a word by the dictionary.

Passive verbs - Finally, there have been some inconsistencies over the years regarding passive verbs. The verb "lenite" is listed as "lenite ... verb (be lenited)". It is not entirely clear whether these can be treated in the same way as other verbs. For example, would "lenites" and "leniting" be acceptable?

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope that you will be able to consider the points that I have made.
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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Innis Carson » Thu Jun 27, 2013 10:30 pm

Great e-mail, there isn't anything I can think of to add to it, either in terms of content or style. I might just paraphrase it and send it to them again just to make it harder to ignore.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Jan 28, 2015 12:03 am

Based on discussions in this thread, and discussions more generally, I think it's time to reopen this thread. I'm going to send another e-mail if I get round to it, and maybe some of you could do the same!

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Zarte Siempre » Wed Jan 28, 2015 1:06 pm

Dear Oxford Dictionaries,

Sorry about Gevin. There's plenty of us he doesn't speak for, honest.

Love, Z
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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Jon O'Neill » Wed Jan 28, 2015 1:56 pm

OUP only need to do three things to ODO for it to be perfect for Countdown:

- List EVERY derivative, even if it's "obvious" or "logical"
- For Mass Nouns, introduce a [countable] label for stuff (like food and drinks that can be ordered in portions, actions, fabrics, plants) which generally does appear in plural form.
- Publicise a list of every single word (or at least send it to the Countdown Team and allow it to be queried by prospective contestants), and provide a "differences" update every time the dictionary is updated.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Jan 28, 2015 4:03 pm

Jon O'Neill wrote:OUP only need to do three things to ODO for it to be perfect for Countdown:

- List EVERY derivative, even if it's "obvious" or "logical"
- For Mass Nouns, introduce a [countable] label for stuff (like food and drinks that can be ordered in portions, actions, fabrics, plants) which generally does appear in plural form.
- Publicise a list of every single word (or at least send it to the Countdown Team and allow it to be queried by prospective contestants), and provide a "differences" update every time the dictionary is updated.
Cool. E-mail it.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Jan 28, 2015 4:03 pm

Zarte Siempre wrote:Dear Oxford Dictionaries,

Sorry about Gevin. There's plenty of us he doesn't speak for, honest.

Love, Z
Cool. E-mail it.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Jon O'Neill » Wed Jan 28, 2015 4:05 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:
Jon O'Neill wrote:OUP only need to do three things to ODO for it to be perfect for Countdown:

- List EVERY derivative, even if it's "obvious" or "logical"
- For Mass Nouns, introduce a [countable] label for stuff (like food and drinks that can be ordered in portions, actions, fabrics, plants) which generally does appear in plural form.
- Publicise a list of every single word (or at least send it to the Countdown Team and allow it to be queried by prospective contestants), and provide a "differences" update every time the dictionary is updated.
Cool. E-mail it.
The improvement that this would bring is SO small that it's not worth my time to do it.

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Re: What would you put in a letter to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post by Matt Morrison » Wed Jan 28, 2015 8:12 pm

How about how you rate arguing with Gevin as more important than solving Countdown?

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