A Letter to the New York Times About New Words

From Letters to the Editor of The New York Times:

Several readers wrote in to your Sept. 6 letters page to complain about Anand Giridharadas’s use of the word (or nonword) “saxophonely” to describe Kurt Andersen’s new book.

While I don’t find his coinage especially appealing either, it’s worth noting that The Times has a long and impressive history of offering up new words to the public. In fact the Oxford English Dictionary, by its own tally, credits The Times with 730 “quotations providing first evidence of a word.”

Among the terms that made their print debut in The Times are “ritzy” (1919), “pizzazz” (1937), “grunge” (1965) and “digerati” (1992), all of which must have sounded highly suspect to many readers at the time.

Even more relevant in this case, it so happens that the O.E.D.’s earliest example of the word “sax” as shorthand for “saxophone” comes from The Times, in 1923. It seems unlikely that “saxophonely” will catch on like these other words, but then again the English language has always developed in surprising ways.

Benjamin George Friedman
New York

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