Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Vacancy: Lexicographer

Perhaps feeling weary after so much limelight thrown on Mr. Charlton Heston's passing, with whom (despite his renowned thespian talents and, I'm sure, much deserved recognition) I had nothing in common, including ideals, opinions and values, but for whom I sincerely wish eternal peace (although I assume there are no guns in the "other" world, unfortunately for him and fortunately for many others)--I wish to steal the spotlight from such a heavily touted personality and place it for just a few moments on a more obscure figure who deserves the attention and yes, even the utmost respect, of those of us who consider ourselves authors. Although this figure does not hold Hollywood star status in the hearts and minds of the general public, far from it actually, there is ample reason for me to honor him on this blog. Why? Because as a writer engaged in an ever-growing love affair with language, I have an interest in doing just so...

Today I choose to blog about Eugene Ehrlich - The New York Times has recently called him a "word connoisseur", a self-taught lexicographer who wrote or co-wrote "40 dictionaries, thesauruses and phrase books for the "extraordinarily literate"" or for those who really, really wish they were. During his esteemed career, Mr. Ehrlich wrote "three to five million words about words." Impressive, ain't it? supports this fact with three pages of search results for the name "Eugene Ehrlich," whose first book was written in 1961 and held the title "How to Study Better and get Higher Marks." This purveyor of high-brow lexicon died on April 5 after a long illness at the quite ripe age of 85.

If you are one of those who think that the only thesaurus worth owning (or even that the only one that exists) is that compiled by the more widely known Roget, think again. Ehrlich's works are for those intellectuals who make words their art, their sophisticated weapon, their purpose, and are not, admittedly, for the average Joe who needs grammar and sentence structure tips so he can write better emails on the job. And Ehrlich does not only tackle the complex battlefield of the English Language; indeed, some of his books expouse his knowledge of Latin and French...even with very humorous titles, such as (my favorite) "Les Bons Mots, or How to Amaze Tout le Monde With Everyday French," published in 1997, or "Veni, Vidi, Vici: Conquer Your Enemies, Impress Your Friends with Everyday Latin". Apparently, according to Mr. Ehrlich, there IS such a thing as everyday Latin.

This blog is to commemorate such a grand personality, who, to the very end, felt it necessary to fulfill his assumed duty as grammar watchdog. According to the NY Times:

"Some family members were so used to Mr. Ehrlich’s habit of correcting grammar that some studied up before visiting him. On his deathbed, Mr. Ehrlich heard somebody ask, “To who?”

“To whom,” he said, with a weak voice and great authority."

May you rest in peace in "word heaven," Mr. Ehrlich. I would have liked to meet you and converse with you, even at the cost of occasionally embarrassing myself with poor word choice.

~ Angela Guillaume ~
"Breathtaking Sensual Romance"
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