The New York Times carries an obituary today for lexicographer Larry Urdang, who was the managing editor of the first edition of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language and the founding editor of the language quarterly Verbatim. He studied linguistics at Columbia University and lectured on the subject at New York University, but he never completed his dissertation. His wife Nicole told the Times, "He always said he considered the Random House dictionary his dissertation."
Urdang also wrote dozens of other specialized dictionaries and word compendiums. The Times describes one:
“-Ologies and -Isms” was a compilation of words used to name or describe “theories, concepts, doctrines, systems, attitudes, practices, states of mind and branches of science” and emphasizing those with particular suffixes: -ology, -ism, -graphy, -metry, -archy, -cide, -philia, -phobia, -mancy and -latry. Logophile, for instance: “A lover of words. Also called philologue, philologer.”
And his logophilia was on full display in the introduction of his 1972 book, The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words:
“This is not a succedaneum for satisfying the nympholepsy of nullifidians. Rather it is hoped that the haecceity of this enchiridion of arcane and recondite sesquipedalian items will appeal to the oniomania of an eximious Gemeinschaft whose legerity and sophrosyne, whose Sprachgefühl and orexis will find more than fugacious fulfillment among its felicific pages.”
Urdang remained active in his final years, making his rather crotchety presence known on the mailing lists of the American Dialect Society and the Dictionary Society of North America. He is being remembered fondly by members of those two organizations, and his legacy will live on in the DSNA's Laurence Urdang Award, given annually to recognize lexicographical excellence. He will be greatly missed.