Tuesday, January 18

Bizarro: “Words are not watertight, we evolve”

Today we interview the great winner of the year, the word ‘bizarre’.

Q: Thank you very much for having us and for answering our questions. First of all, we wanted to congratulate you on the inclusion of its new meaning in the academic dictionary.

A: Thank you very much. It is always a pleasure to speak to the press and I am humbled by the recognition.

Q: Some give it as the big winner of the day. Its inclusion in the dictionary has eclipsed other greats of the lexicographic panorama, such as ‘cryptocurrency’, ‘pifostio’, ‘syndios’ or even pandemic terms that have enjoyed a great pull in recent times such as ‘hyssop’. How did you experience the news?

A: With a lot of emotion. The inclusion of this new meaning is the fruit of many years of work and effort and it makes me deeply proud. But above all I would like to express my gratitude to my audience, to all those speakers from all corners of Hispanofonía who have bet on me and who have used ‘bizarre’ with the sense of strange or extravagant all these years against all odds. They are the true winners of this recognition. They, who have maintained their lexical preferences beyond academic recommendations, beyond the norm. They are the ones who have brought me here and it is to them that I owe it. I promise to live up to it and not disappoint.

Q: You are not a newcomer. He already had a solid career with the meaning of “brave” or “generous”, both with great literary pedigree. Why this registry change?

A: Words are not watertight, we evolve. It is a mistake to believe that we are going to remain unchanged, or to try to keep us from changing. I have had a very satisfactory career in more classical literary texts, but now I feel very comfortable exploring this new facet of my life, alternating with a younger audience and entering a less confined, more internal register. We owe our words to our audience. It is time to renew or die.

Q: The entries and news of the academic dictionary are experienced with great enthusiasm. For many speakers this recognition is almost a triumph of use over the norm. Do you share this feeling?

A: Well, I think you have to know how to see it in context. The awards are nice but they have the value they do, and these annual lexicographic retrospectives have something almost ritualistic or linguistic fetish. What matters is the day-to-day work. Inclusion in the dictionary is of relative importance. At the end of the day, the belief that if a word or a meaning is not included in the dictionary it is wrong is one of the most widespread mistakes about dictionaries and, specifically, about the academic dictionary. We tend to think that if a word is not in the dictionary it means that it is wrong or, at least, that its use is not recommended. Nothing is further from reality. The very introduction of the RAE dictionary warns that the function of the dictionary is not to collect all the words in Spanish. La Fundéu, another of the bastions of normativism in the Spanish language, specifies that no dictionary collects all the words of a language, without this meaning that they are incorrect. So the speakers are perfectly free to always use whatever vocabulary they want. As I was saying, lexicographical recognitions are nice but they always necessarily go behind what the speakers do. What matters is what people say, not what they put in the dictionary.

Q: It is true that there are words and meanings that do not appear in the dictionary. But it is not exactly your case. The use of ‘bizarre’ to mean ‘weird’ was expressly sanctioned by the academy. The Pan-Hispanic Dictionary of Doubts makes it very clear: “Avoid using it in the sense of ‘weird or extravagant’, a reprehensible semantic tracing of French or English. Its use is not only novel, it has been directly banned.

A: [Sonríe con picardía] Indeed. And I do not deny it, I find it very gratifying that my years of service and my lexical career are going to win a recommendation, nothing less than the Pan-Hispanic! I think there is a lesson to be learned here for everyone: that when it comes to language, it makes no sense to put doors out of the field. The RAE or the Pope of Rome may come to censor a linguistic use that if the speakers consider it useful or like it for any reason, they will use it and the dictionaries will have to end up picking it up. The purists have that losing battle. I do not deny it, I am proud that my work makes the legendary DPD obsolete.

Q: There are voices that criticize its inclusion, since the meaning of bizarre as “strange or extravagant” is an Anglicism, a meaning that comes from imitation of English or French and that is illegitimate in Spanish.

A: I would like to make it clear that pointing out a meaning as illegitimate due to the fact that it comes from another language is nonsense. Of course there are words that enter or acquire new meanings due to the influence of other languages! This has always been the case, it is nothing new. Is named semantic change and it is our daily bread in the life of a word. But in this country there is a lot of envy and everything that comes from outside is viewed with suspicion. And if it is someone who started his career here and then succeeded abroad, that is not forgiven. It’s the same thing that happened to Penelope. There is one thing in this country that is unforgiving and that is success.

Q: The gossips point out that its inclusion might have made sense in 2015, when the new sense of ‘bizarre’ was in vogue. At that time you were on the crest of the wave. But it comes precisely now, when that use of ‘bizarre’ begins to decline. Some say that you are the new ‘too much’, incorporated into the dictionary in the twilight of his lexical career What do you have to say to this review? Because right now?

A: Let’s go by parts: criticism about when a word is incorporated into the dictionary should not be made to me, but to the Academy. Do you know why I have been recognized now and not before? No? Well, me neither. I am with you that this recognition is late. ‘Zip line ‘ or ‘jelly bean‘They didn’t come in until recently, you’ll tell me what’s the point of that. Or that until now was not ‘pifostio‘. But what you journalists have to do is demand that the RAE be transparent about the inclusion criteria. In that sense, I find it very inelegant and very ungrateful to mention the case of the poor word ‘too much’, which is a worker with years of experience behind her who has been working all her life, an example for the profession. On the other hand (and it is not to show off), I would like to emphasize that I was the second most searched word on the dictionary web in 2015. And I already tell you that it was not to consult the meaning of ‘dashing’. Nor is it unnecessary to remember that I have produced offspring, like the word ‘bizarre’. If all that doesn’t deserve a dictionary entry, let Chomsky come down and see it.

Q: Going back to the case of ‘too much’ or other incorporations already in the doldrums, do you consider it reasonable to incorporate a meaning even when it has gone out of style?

A: It is a mistake to think that the words that should be incorporated are only those that are currently very topical. Some people criticize that the dictionary collects terms that have had a short career because they consider them to be a flower of a day. But it is that those words have as much right to be recognized as the others. Let’s think of a speaker who in a hundred years from now is reading articles written in 2015. Or texts published on social networks. Suppose that you come across a case of “bizarre”, you go to the dictionary, and you do not find the meaning you are looking for. The error is not in the text, but in the dictionary. Dictionaries must be at the service of speakers and that means collecting the meanings of words, even if they are ephemeral or minority. The opposite is not having understood what a dictionary is for.

Q: Finally, now that you have achieved this recognition that you have fought so hard, who do you think of?

A: The first thing in my audience, in my people, in my speakers. This is by and for them. Also in the companions who are still out of the dictionary and who are still awaiting this recognition: ‘heteropatriarchy’, ‘bandana’, ‘pirindolo’ and many others. But above all I think of the recently deceased Manuel Seco. He bet on me long before the Academy, and his dictionary is a reference for all of us who are dedicated to this. The world of lexicography has lost one of the greats. We all owe him a lot. I, the first.


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