The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A shiny new dictionary

I've just received a shiny, new copy of a recently-published dictionary (yes, another one to pack!) that I worked on last year; the Chambers Student Learners' Dictionary. And I have to admit that even after 10 years in dictionary publishing, I still get quite excited when a new book arrives and I flick through the first couple of pages to find my name (or not, as the case may be with certain publishers). To be completely honest, this wasn't the most exciting of projects to work on. As with much modern lexicography, it was mostly a case of editing and adapting entries from another dictionary on the publisher's database to fit the format and users' needs. I was rather spoilt by the first project I ever worked on as a new lexicographer, because it was a brand-new dictionary being written from scratch - the Cambridge Learner's Dictionary - but sadly, such projects tend to be rare. I suppose there's no point in reinventing the wheel though, especially with the benefits of modern database technology.

The interesting point about this dictionary (and its USP) is that it's explicitly targeted at CLIL; a rather horrible acronym that always sounds to me a bit like a nasty disease, but actually stands for Content Language and Integrated Learning - or in other words, learning other subjects through the medium of English as a non-native speaker. It seems to have been a popular trend in ELT/ESOL in the past few years and has seen many of the dictionary publishers bringing out editions which include more subject-specific vocabulary. Most intermediate level learners dictionaries would discount words like aerodynamic or zygote on the grounds of frequency, but for CLIL learners, they're likely to crop up on the physics or biology syllabus so merit inclusion.

It's interesting too that Chambers seem to have bucked the trend on ELT dictionary titles and have gone for learners' dictionary instead of learner's dictionary (Cambridge, Oxford and Collins COBUILD all go for learner's dictionary, while Macmillan dodge the issue with dictionary for advanced/intermediate learners!) - are Chambers perhaps expecting groups of students to share a dictionary rather than having one each?

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Heavy work - again

Looking back through this blog, I'm afraid this is a bit of a repeat entry. After months of searching, we finally found a new place to move to (hurray!) and with two weeks until we get the keys, I'm starting to think about packing up. But inevitably, I've come up against the same issue I had when I last moved (see December 2006) of packing up all my dictionaries....

I just counted and I have a grand total of 42 of them, all fairly weighty! I can't just put them all in a box marked "office" because it'd be impossible to lift, so once again I'm going to have to go for the tactic of putting a couple of dictionaries in the bottom of every box of stuff to spread the weight around.

Apart from all the hassle surrounding the actual process of moving (clearing, packing and physically moving stuff, sorting out utilities, changes of address ...), I'm really looking forward to the new place. My new "office" is actually going to be a bit smaller than the room I'm in now, but it's a mezzanine level overlooking the living area, so hopefully it won't feel too pokey. I'll post pictures of my new workspace once I'm settled in ...

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Monday, September 21, 2009

One out of thousands

At the end of last week I went for a biobank medical assessment. If you haven't come across it, biobank is a huge project to collect health and lifestyle information from thousands of people in the UK, who will then be tracked for years to come to see how their health develops and feed into various research projects. I got a letter a few weeks ago asking me to volunteer and last Thursday went along for a two-hour session at which I answered lots of questions about health, diet and lifestyle and had a whole range of medical checks.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the whole process for me was an interview with a nurse to add various bits of key personal data to a database. One of the first questions was "What's your job?". I was particularly impressed to find that lexicographer actually cropped up on the list of professions. Although the nurse admitted that I was the first one on the system!

More disappointing was the fact that RSI wasn't on the list of medical conditions and the nurse wanted to just ignore it until I insisted. It doesn't seem great for a study into the effect of modern lifestyles on health and adds to the frustration of having a controversial and often not recognised condition. Needless to say, I sent in my feedback at the end of the session and I'm awaiting a response.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Being away from my desk over the summer - combined with some new painkillers - my RSI has calmed down somewhat since its flare-up back in May. It's still lingering under the surface though, ready to come raging back at the slightest provocation (yesterday just washing my hair left my right hand cramped and painful). So I've been very careful to try and plan a gentle return to my desk with just a couple of small projects agreed to through the autumn.

But as ever in the world of freelancing, planning is always a rather pointless exercise. At the mercy of publishers, work you agree to is always rather tenuous and subject to change. So I shouldn't have been surprised when yesterday I received an email to say that the main project I'd expected to come back to has probably now fallen through, leaving me with very little to keep me going through the coming weeks. Normally, I'd 'overbook' myself to compensate for possible cancellations and delays, but it was just that sort of overcommitment that got me into trouble earlier in the year. It seems that being choosy has left me vulnerable too. You just can't win!

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Pass or fail?

Well, I've now said goodbye to my summer class and sent them on their way with the usual round of group photos and good wishes for the future.

PSBC - Pre-sessional EAP group Bristol Uni 2009

The final week is always a mix of emotions, marking final assessments and agonizing over marks, then having to say 'goodbye and good luck' without giving any hint of passes and fails - marks will be collated, moderated, then sent out to students next week. This year has been particularly tricky as I seem to have had a lot of borderline cases - neither clear passes nor definite fails.

After five weeks of seeing a group almost every day, you become really quite attached to them. Whilst they can be infuriating at times, you also get a lot of satisfaction from seeing the progress they make - in some cases really great leaps. You want the best for them and although in one way, you want to pass them all, you also know that it's not fair to push those through who just won't cope on their Master's programmes. Is it better for them to fail at this early hurdle and go away and reassess their options rather than carry on and struggle all year, possibly dropping out or failing at a later stage? Whatever the outcome, I just hope they all make the most of their year ahead and go away with a great stock of experiences and memories.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Autumnal tredpidation

Autumn has definitely arrived. In the past couple of days I've been buffeted by wind and rain, mixed in with spells of glorious sunshine and bright blue sky, and this morning I picked up my first conker of the season. It was sat on the pavement looking incongruously shiny on the grey concrete and I couldn't resist picking it up and slipping it in my pocket. It'll no doubt stay there for the next few weeks until it loses its shine and finally shrivels up.

For me, autumn always seems to be a time of dread. I truly hate winter - I've always suffered from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and find the winter months a struggle. The cold and damp also exacerbate my aches and pains, adding to my general grouchiness. So every year around this time, I determine to head off and sit out the worst of winter in warmer climes.

One year I had quite advanced discussions with an old friend who lives in New York about a plan in which both of us would spend 2 or 3 months in Buenos Aires, sharing a flat, taking laptops to work from, learning Spanish and perhaps a bit of tango too. Somehow, we've never quite got round to organising it though.

This year I had thought of a couple of months in Australia. Quite a few friends seem to have emigrated that way recently, so again, I'd considered heading South with my laptop to work from the other side of the world in the sunshine through the worst of the British winter. And when the cost of that worked out to be rather prohibitive, I toyed with the idea of renting an apartment somewhere in the Med instead through October to at least catch a last dose of late sun. I'm still mulling over the last option, but haven't quite found the right spot at the right price yet.

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