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Archives on the Air 260: Divisive Dictionary – Philip Babcock Gove papers

More than 450,000 words made up the third edition of Merriam-Webster’s New International Dictionary. It was published in 1961. There was considerable controversy about which words were worthy of inclusion. Indeed, there were even arguments about correct pronunciations.

Dr. Philip Gove was at the center of the controversies. He believed that a dictionary was most useful if it reflected how words were actually used. As editor-in-chief, he supervised a staff of seventy who worked for eleven years to get the dictionary into print.

It weighed in at a hefty 13½ pounds. When it was finally published, The New York Times refused to use it. Some critics were appalled by the inclusion of the word “ain’t”. They argued that incorporating such a colloquial word gave tacit approval to a term generally considered to be slang.

Read Philip Babcock’s papers at UW’s American Heritage Center to learn more about the divisive Merriam-Webster dictionary.