Posts Tagged ‘dictionary’

Banned Books II: Ridiculous Reasons to Ban Books

October 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Hopefully you have noticed our earlier post and/or the library display about Banned Books Week.  Although the official week has come to an end, we are giving the week an encore.

When you hear that, in the 1950s,  Tarzan was banned by a Los Angles public library because Tarzan and Jane were “living in sin”  the idea seems quaint.  After all, something that silly hasn’t happened in least half a century, right?  We should be so lucky.  You can consult this  interactive map to see what your state has recently banned, or read on for some silly samples of why books have have been banned or challenged.

1974 – An administrator in Wild Rose, Wisconsin, stated that Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was “slanted” and declared that “if there’s a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not ban it? ”  Great attitude for an educator.

First removed from an Illinois school library in 1977 because of “nudity to no purpose” Maurice Sendak’s  In the Night Kitchen has faced challenges well into the 1990s and, in some schools, shorts were drawn on the nude cartoon boy.

1983 – 2010 It’s one thing if you personally don’t want to read the Diary of Anne Frank, but can you imagine wanting to ban it because it is a “real downer?”  No?  In 1983, the Alabama Textbook Committee thought that this was a good reason.  Since then the book has been the subject of continuous controversy across the nation.

1984 – An Eagle Point Oregon elementary school challenged the Three Billy Goats Gruff, claiming that the book was too violent for children.  Well they could be right, given all the goat-on-troll violence we see in the news.

Did Little Red Riding Hood need AA?  California school officials were not taking any chances, and, in 1990,  banned a version of the tale that showed “Red” taking grandma a bottle of wine in the basket of goodies. Perhaps that was what the wolf was after? A  year later, in  Clay County, Florida, a parent raised the same issue, and a Bradford county teacher complained that the wolf was too violent.

Shel Silverstein’s works have been the  source of many twisted knickers in both the 1980s and 1990s. In 1985, Light in the Attic was challenged by one Wisconsin school for “encouraging children to break dishes so that they wouldn’t have to dry them.”  Apparently banning felt good because  the next year another Wisconsin school system pulled Silverstein’s  Where the Sidewalk Ends  because it “suggests drug use, the occult, suicide, death, violence disrespect for true,..authority, [and] rebellion against parents.”  Even worse (or better if you are considering the comedic value) is that the book includes the poem “Dreadful,” which in turn contains the line “someone ate the baby.”  In 1993, a school district in Pennsylvania pulled the book lest the poem “encourage cannibalism.”  Yeah, good daycare, drug use, and cannibalism, the top concerns of the modern parent.

Of course this is that state where some officials were shocked to discover that artists paint pictures of nudes!  At least THEY got educated if not their students.

Another amusing complaint comes all the way from the U.K.  The London County Council in England banned the use of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny from London schools. Why? The stories portrayed only “middle-class rabbits.”  I’ll leave it to you to decide how one determines the social class of rabbits.

And so what is causing the most furor in 2010-2011?  Those tales of magical wizards and sparkly vampires, the Harry Potter and Twilight  series .  The latter raises a ruckus, not as as one might expect, because they are abysmally written,  but because they are sexually explicit.  Hmm, a high school student has a  crush on a guy, and is experiencing her first romantic and sexual feelings.  Yeah, I’m sure students would be shocked by that; I mean how could they relate?

In closing, consider this truly pointless action take by  a school in California.

This was removed in 2010.  What a shame; now the children can’t use an actual book to define the terms that they hear on South Park, but will have to consult the  Urban Dictionary. (See earlier post for  discussion of the Urban Dictionary).

Dictionaries – word nerd fun continues: Everybody Researches

September 2, 2011 1 comment

Words, like laws, are not static.  New words are unofficially being added to our vocabulary all the time and are considered “official” when added to an actual, publisher-edited dictionary. Many dictionaries send out annual updates to let the public know what are the newest official additions.  While the massive Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is one of the most, if not the most, highly regarded dictionary, the more concise Oxford American Dictionary (OAD) is also reliable and focuses on U.S. English.  The OAD releases a list of its recent additions in the fall, and the 2010 words have been official for almost a year.  If you enjoy word games, you might like to take a look at the list of words below to see if you know what they mean, and if you can correctly guess which ones have made the cut to becoming “real” words according to the new Oxford American Dictionary before checking your answers in this article from Vanity Fair introducing the OAD changes for 2010. If you are in a hurry,  just click-through to make sure that you are informed about what’s new in the U.S. vocabulary.

Which of these were included in the dictionary*?

  •  bromance,
  •  hater
  • chu doing
  • hockey mom
  • tramp stamp
  • hashtag
  •  truthiness
  • Snooki
  •  Tumblr
  •  the new black
  • green-collar
  •  Trig
  •  what’s not to like?
  •  share a moment
  •  blerg
  •  vuvuzela
  • GTL

Those more “experienced” staff members and professors, and any non-traditional students, should make sure that you know about the Urban Dictionary.  It is a particularly good idea to have it readily available if you have children and you would like to know if they are saying “sure, whatever” in teen-speak or if they are telling you to do something biologically impossible.  Like Wikipedia,  this “ultimate slang dictionary”  is authored by the public so some of the definitions can be coarse and vulgar.  If you are wondering if you really need to subject yourself to some of these words, consider the following: Do you think that PITA is someone with Caps Lock problems writing about  bread or perhaps an animal rights group?  If so, you might want to explore the Urban Dictionary.   While the Urban Dictionary can be very helpful for immediate slang edification, you need to keep in mind that anyone can submit a definition.  Therefore, you might want to read two or three options before using a word.  If you demand more reliability for you slang definition needs, you can consult The Dictionary of American Slang by Robert L. Chapman which is considered to be “the standard printed work for American slang.”

Even two blog posts cannot cover the myriad types of dictionaries available.  In law, there are many topic specific dictionaries for areas such as tax or environmental law.  To see what is available in our library visit Professor Johnson’s research guide  Legal Dictionaries and Thesauri .  There are also picture dictionaries, bilingual dictionaries, dictionaries about cats, chocolate, and brain tumors, and even a dictionary of mountain bike slang; all of which are online.  To view these more unusual dictionaries visit the Free Dictionaries Project or browse the “dictionary” search results on OneLook.  With all the options out there, you are bound to find a dictionary that meets your particular needs.

* Two words that were not include in the article, GTL (did not make the cut) and green-collar (now an official word).

Dictionary Fun for the Word Nerd: Everybody Researches

August 8, 2011 Leave a comment

If you watch legal shows on television, you would think that lawyers spend their time either arguing with other lawyers in court or chasing after attractive co-workers in the office.  Even if you are only starting out in law school, you know better than this.  While there are certainly exciting and satisfying courtroom moments, the majority of your time, particularly as a new associate, is likely to be spent in writing, reviewing documents, and RESEARCHING.  Lawyers in big firms research, solo practitioners research, corporate counsel and law clerks research.  Because legal research is such a universal theme to the practice of law, The Demon’s Advocate will be featuring at least one post per month on new or unusual ways to conduct legal research, or about legal research materials.

This post takes a new look at a familiar resource, the dictionary.  While most of you are likely to have used the print and or online versions of Black’s Law Dictionary, there are some free online legal dictionaries worth your time, as well as some interesting non-legal  dictionaries to expand your mind and your research. This post will review some of the more traditional dictionary offerings, and a future post will describe some dictionary innovations.’s offering, known as the  Real Life Dictionary of the Law bills itself as an easy-to-read and user-friendly “guide to legal terms.”  It is unquestionably versatile, allowing you not only to browse for the word or to run a search for it, but also providing the option to search definitions for your word.  This last feature proves helpful when you can remember the general areas of the law the word falls under or other similar concepts but cannot recall the word itself. (Take from someone who has passed the age of 40, this happens.)

Have you ever tried to explain a legal term to a family member or significant other without success? If so, next time you might want to try Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary.  Nolo Press has been bringing the law to the non-lawyer for years via print “how to” legal books, and now via  Whether you consider them famous or infamous for their DIY approach to the law, their dictionary is a useful look at legal terms for the non-professional audience.

The Free Dictionary does have a legal option, but the feature I most enjoy is that it not only provides a definition of the word you are searching, but also has an audio pronunciation of the word.  For example, if you are a politician, and want to use the work chutzpah, but are not sure how to pronounce it, you could type the word (or a near spelling and it will offer you options), and you will get both a definition and a graphic of a speaker to click in order to hear the pronunciation.  Depending on the word, you may have both a British and an American option for pronunciation.

If this sampler of dictionaries has not sated your interest, you might want to investigate the University of Washington Gallagher Law Library’s dictionary research guide.   The guide is written by law librarians,  so the focus is on law dictionaries, including those for foreign and international law and for specialized legal  fields.  However, recognizing that law does not exist in a vacuum, it also includes some of the most popular general dictionaries as well as some basic law guides and glossaries for those not in the legal profession.  If you use this guide, do be aware that, while you have access to all free linked material mentioned, the call numbers provided are for the Gallagher library and so may refer to books not available in the PCL or that are in a slightly different location.  If you have questions about any of the titles, please contact one  of the reference librarians, staff, or students, or check the PCL catalog for information specific to our library.