Ammon Shea recently spent a year of his life reading the OED from start to finish. Over the next few months he will be posting weekly blogs about the insights, gems, and thoughts on language that came from this experience. His book, Reading the OED, has been published by Perigee, so go check it out in your local bookstore. In the post below Ammon reflects on an article he saw in The New York Times Book Review.
Last Sunday, in the New York Times, I read a book reviewer taking an author to task for her word use. The reviewer stated that “the last time I checked the American Heritage Dictionary, in spite of how computer trade journalists might choose to use the word, “architect” was not recognized as a verb”.
First, putting aside the obvious slander against computer trade journalists (who themselves would likely not claim to be arbiters of what is recognized in language), are there perhaps some other sources that might recognize “architect” as a verb? Surprisingly enough, there are – both the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Third International list “architect” as a verb.
The OED provides citations from as far back as 1813, quoting a letter from Keats, in which he writes “This was architected thus By the great Oceanus.” The OED also specifies that the word, in addition to being used as a verb, is used in a figurative and transferred sense. Perhaps those computer trade journalists were engaging their poetic whimsy and quoting this early nineteenth century versifier.
Webster’s Third does not provide dates for their citation (“the book is not well architected”), but it is from the Times Literary Supplement, and so perhaps the aforementioned computer trade journalists were simply imitating the writing style of some other, more lofty and intellectual publication.
It is always a little bit risky to make a claim that something is not a word, or not used thusly, or has never been a certain part of speech. First, there is simply the possibility that you are wrong. But also, if you spend enough time looking through dictionaries you are just as likely as not to find one or two which contradict whatever position you’ve so boldly staked out. Of course, the flip side of this is that if someone states that you are wrong on the meaning of a word, you can usually find some source that will back up your position.
I’ll bet that the hordes of angry computer trade journalists who read that comment are right now sharpening their pens and rifling through their dictionaries, searching about for the perfect vicious rejoinder to refute this review.