Micro-dictionaries are bias-free and very current

January 21, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

Listen up. If you're not a narb (square) or an abb (abnormal) you'll want to speak the King's (oops, Monarch's) English in a politically correct, bias-free, po-mo (postmodern) way.

You will not call your pooch a pet but an animal companion.

You will not call Whoopi Goldberg an actress; she's an actor. You will not say master bedroom, master key, mastermind or master anything -- these are sexist concepts.

You will learn the meaning of flatline, TICKS, woopie, Glyph, mousemilking, diss and hundreds of other words and acronyms now in use but not yet common.

Above all, you will realize that no matter what you write or utter, it will most likely offend or confuse someone. Unless you're equipped with some of the new micro-dictionaries designed to guide you through a maze of language that is changing faster than we can learn it -- and faster than traditional dictionaries can catalog.

New social movements and technologies have combined with heightened sensitivities to produce a soaring birth rate for new words and a dramatic shift in the usage of old ones. And major dictionaries are revised about every 10 years -- too infrequently to keep pace with the Mother (oops, parent) tongue, so this leaves lots of room for non-traditional lexicographers.

Item: Your morning paper has a story on the "critically dissed" Jackie Thomas show. Dissed? Webster's Dictionary, Third College Edition, 1988, won't define it. But "Trash Cash, Fizzbos and Flatliners A Dictionary of Today's Words" will. The book, due out next month, defines diss as a verb, from street slang, that means "to insult."

Item: You sweetly urge your 4-year-old to "say hello to the nice mailman" -- only to realize that mailmen are not all male and you should have said . . . what?

Mail deliverer? Mailperson? Femailman?

Webster's, Page 815, lists mailman but no female equivalent. But "The Bias-free Word Finder -- A Dictionary of Nondiscriminatory Language" offers mail carrier among half a dozen suitable alternatives.

Item: Your boss says the company is rightsizing and you must be decruited. What? Go right to "The Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook," which explains that rightsizing is the euphemism for downsizing -- and when you're decruited, you're fired.

The authors of these small soft-cover dictionaries usually wear more than one hat.

Sid Lerner, for example, spent years as an ad agency creative director, until he came back from an island vacation in 1980 to find a new word: abscam. It was in every paper, on every news report, yet there was no official place to look it up.

He realized that there were scores of such words -- spawned in politics, computer sciences, medicine, ecology -- each deserving acknowledgment and definition. So he compiled a dictionary that was so successful that he has since updated it twice.

His upcoming fourth volume, "Trash Cash ... " (with co-author Gary S. Belkin and the editors of American Heritage dictionaries) contains what Lerner gleefully refers to as "1,200 virgin words found in no mainstream dictionaries."

Also in the new edition are carjacking and glass ceiling, both in such common use that they already seem old.

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