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Professor of English, Indiana University

I am foremost a historian of English language, especially of English words, who also specializes in the history, theory, and practice of lexicography. Studying the history of language requires familiarity with a wide variety of texts, spread over time, space, and type. In my case, this includes not only traditional literary genres but popular genres, like graphic novels, television, and film, as well as “new media,” like Web texts, text messaging, etc.

I have had the good fortune to work on various dictionary projects, including the Middle English Dictionary and the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4/e). I was a contributing editor to both the Barnhart Dictionary Companion (Merriam-Webster, 1999-2001) and Word Mysteries and Histories: From Abracadabra to Zeus (Houghton Mifflin, 2004). For several years, I was editor of Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America, and, for a decade, I was editor of the quarterly journal American Speech. I am currently working on a suite of books about historical dictionaries, including one on the Dictionary of American English — unexpectedly used to symbolize Anglo-American cooperation on the eve of World War II — the Dictionary of American Regional English —significantly innovative as both dialectology and lexicography — and the Middle English Dictionary, in which linguistic constraints confronted lexicographers, whose solutions to them determined the purpose, structure, and design of the eventual dictionary.

Lexicography, in all its aspects, is a deeply rooted, ongoing professional interest of mine, but I have other equally strong scholarly interests, especially slang and jargon. Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon (2003) is a good example of my work in this field; more recently, I have written a general account, titled Slang: The People's Poetry (2009); and my newest book is In Praise of Profanity (2016). Slowly but surely, I’m working on a historical glossary of restaurant jargon, tentatively called The Server's Lexicon.


  • –present
    Professor of English, Indiana University, Bloomington