Right words: A guide to English usage in Australia
Viking, 361 pp, $24.95
If, as Dr Johnson opined, a lexicographer is a harmless drudge, what does that make a lexicographical reviewer? A potentially harmful drudge perhaps. Who else feels the need to consume a dictionary whole in one indigestible sequence?
Drudgery indeed, and potentially harmful if as with the malign convention in this kind, the reviewer summarises the preface, reports a few humorous entries, takes ex cathedra issue with some others, and so comes to imply how much better it might all have been done. But there is another course open to reviewers these days, or another discourse. Recent theory has confided much about the construction of a subject, human and academic, shown how manifold and intermittent can be the modes through which a position, an ideology, might be created. Dictionaries and guides to usage, those dense repertoires of a culture and its authorising rules, may be some of the most insidiously effective means of sustaining and reproducing cultural and social ideologies.