Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1999!
Sunday, September 5, 1999
Millennial Fever and Merriam-Webster
I know I'm being somewhat oversensitive about this. I know that pet peeves aren't completely rational. I know I should just let it slide and stop being so persnickety about the facts. However, if I see or hear one more bloody reference to this year being the last one of the 20th Century and/or the 2nd Millennium, I think I shall go mad.
The J.C. Penney advertising and the myriad other references all over the place were bad enough, not to even mention the wholly innacurate countdown on the front page of the New York Times. But just this morning, on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition, what do I hear but "Tomorrow is the last Labor Day of the 20th Century"?
If it hadn't been first thing in the morning, I would have screamed. As it stood, I just yelped.
I don't get it. We're not talking rocket science here; the math involved ought to be obvious to anyone with a third-grade education and an IQ higher than their shoe size. This may be the last year of the 1900's, but next year is the last of the 20th Century.
I can only assume that the reporters and advertisers involved are acting out of a misplaced sense that there's no point in being accurate on an issue that doesn't really hurt anybody... but it's still sloppy. And wrong. And a sign of how the level of popular culture is going downhill. And--
Okay, okay, I'll stop. End of rant.
But I had to get that out of my system.
In other language-related issues, over in the campus bookstore the other day, I discovered that Merriam-Webster is now an Encyclopaedia Britannica company.
I'm still stunned.
As an English major, I rank Noah Webster's dictionary of American English fairly high on the list of major events establishing the United States. For better or worse, his very prescriptive work served both to widen the gap between the U.S. and the U.K., and to establish American English as a legitimate alternative to British English.
Despite shifting from prescriptive to descriptive between Webster's Second and Webster's Third, and despite the scores of other dictionaries out there carrying Webster's name, Merriam-Webster publishes the direct successors of Noah's original work, and has been the standard-bearer of the nation's language.
So it's very unsettling to find out that it's now under British control.
Me, I'm hoping I misread the cover.