The RAE takes the wall and then goes and loses the bugger

Many thanks to Javier for introducing me to the Cantabrian Quixote, which devotes a whole chapter to a duel resulting from a disagreement about who should dexar la acera, give the wall sidewalk. Not surprisingly, like the cognate discussed in the linked post, it doesn’t turn up in the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy.

The RAE has received large sums of public money over the past three centuries, presumably with the expectation that an investment was being made in something other than fine food and wines. Various reasons are given for its failure to produce anything as half as good as, for example, Francesc de Borja Moll’s dictionary of Catalan, Valencian and Balearic. One problem is that, like the Catalan IEC, its role is prescriptive rather than descriptive. La Vanguardia ran a surreal interview with the head zombies of both institutions a couple of weeks ago in which they proclaimed their civilising mission, rather like Dr Livingstone off to convert the Dark Continent. A rancid Tory, Dr Johnson would have also had an opinion:

Dr. Adams found [Johnson] one day busy at his Dictionary, when the following dialogue ensued. ‘ADAMS. This is a great work, Sir. How are you to get all the etymologies? JOHNSON. Why, Sir, here is a shelf with Junius, and Skinner, and others; and there is a Welch gentleman who has published a collection of Welch proverbs, who will help me with the Welch. ADAMS. But, Sir, how can you do this in three years? JOHNSON. Sir, I have no doubt that I can do it in three years. ADAMS. But the French Academy, which consists of forty members, took forty years to compile their Dictionary. JOHNSON. Sir, thus it is. This is the proportion. Let me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman.’ With so much ease and pleasantry could he talk of that prodigious labour which he had undertaken to execute.

Not that Johnson’s work was never found wanting:

Sometimes the Dictionary’s power could have startling results. In the summer of 1775 the toast of British high society was Omai, a young man brought back from Tahiti by Tobias Furneaux, a member of Capitain Cook’s party. Quick to learn chess, Omai was rather less successful in his command of English, but apparently, having gathered from the Dictionary that ‘to pickle’ meant ‘to preserve’, he saluted Lord Sandwich, the Admiral of the Fleet, with the hope that ‘God Almighty might pickle his Lordship to all eternity’.

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