Wednesday, 21 October 2009

“The gold standard for dictionaries”

glimmer n. some small gleam or flicker, as in hope or intelligence
[Campbell, in the style of The Chambers Dictionary]

Fingers are still crossed for Chambers Harrap, the embattled dictionary firm in Edinburgh. An emergency works committee has been held at the level of the parent company Lagardère and the consultation period extended. A online petition to keep Chambers in Edinburgh is available to sign at Tell your friends.

David Crystal
considers the proposed closure “especially ironic, in the case of Chambers, when we think that Edinburgh has been made the first UNESCO City of Literature.” Robert McCrum, blogging in the Guardian, considers that “Chambers sets the gold standard for dictionaries” (see the response of McDrudge in the comments) but it’s revealing that when he wrote those words neither he nor Crystal had yet heard of the closure announced two weeks earlier — and not surprising given the disgraceful lack of interest in the story shown by the “national” press south of the border. My friend Caroline of the Publishing Cupboard points out that what we need is to get the King of Twitter, Stephen Fry, on board. An article in one of the English broadsheets from one of these luminaries would surely do no harm at all.

And in an unorthodox but thought-provoking move, MEP David Martin has even launched a campaign to give the Chambers brand protected geographical status, like Scotch whisky or Stilton cheese. Can it be true that a product’s unique qualities are sometimes due not just to the soil or water or climate of its place of origin but to the accumulated intellectual expertise of its makers, who can only be found in that place? It might seem a stretch in this case, given the relative geographical mobility of such workers and the publishing industry’s dependence on “outsourcing” to freelances all over Europe, but it’s certainly an interesting idea. Terroir intellectuel?

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