Merriam-ly We Roll Along

Our fact-checker takes sides in a dictionary dust-up

Published December 6, 2023

Citation Needed

Introduced in the ’70s, Girl Scouts’ Do-Si-Dos are oatmeal cookies with what stick-to-your-mouth filling? Peanut butter

Depending on where your region falls in the Great Girl Scout Schism, you may know these cookies better as “Peanut Butter Sandwiches.” I live in ABC Bakers territory, where we have always been at war with Eastasia – uh, I mean, Little Brownie Bakers. 

But for my source of the week, I’m interested in a different slice of Americana: Square dancing. This question came from a round celebrating National Square Dancing Day, with each question referencing a different call, like “Dosado.” Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s where I grew up, but I never had any real exposure to square dancing, in gym class or otherwise. Frankly, I don’t really regret that, what with the Henry Ford of it all. But hey, I enjoy cartoons and ice cream trucks, so who am I to cancel someone else’s good time?

So anyway, I’m a square dance neophyte. Thankfully, there’s the delightfully vintage square-dance depository, which includes an index of any call you can imagine, complete with visualizations and definitions. It’s the passion project of Vic Ceder, a retired computer programmer who’s been square dancing since 1973 and calling since 1981. And in case you’re tired of promenading and boxing the gnat, you can review Vic and wife Debbie’s chocolate bar reviews, or their daughter’s old collections of Beanie Babies and Pokémon cards.

Thank you for your service to geekery, Ceders!

Vic Ceder

Rabbit Holes

“Missile Command,” “Haunted House,” and eight other games you can play for free online come with the new 2600+ console put out under what ancient brand? Atari

Yeah, maybe you’ve built your own PC rocking the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 graphics card, but I bet you don’t know about the internet’s hottest gaming portal: the AARP website. I’ve got 20-plus years until I hit AARP’s target demographic, so I didn’t know it grants you access to branded Atari classics like Missile Command, Centipede, or Asteroids. But don’t get too excited: Breakout and Pong are for members only. The website has other diversions, including a daily trivia game catering to the 50-plus crows – a recent round covered The Who, Archie Bunker, high-yield savings accounts, and the side effects of indoor cycling (it minimizes joint stress; saddle soreness is normal!).

Hoping to reunite with fellow Mouseketeer Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears tried out for the lead in what 2004 film about a very romantic Mead spiral-ring? The Notebook

Again, this was before my time, but I never fully appreciated the magnitude of the Mickey Mouse Club revival roster. Gosling and Britney and Xtina and Justin and some other guy from N’Sync? I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, given the continued potency of the Disney-to-Popstar Pipeline: The Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez, Olivia Rodrigo, and Miley Cyrus have all topped the Billboard charts within the past five years. (Ariana was a Nickelodeon girlie.)

Christina, Britney, Justin, Ryan (MMC) – Note Passing (Dear Stacy)

A Perón-hating anarcho-capitalist who talks to his dead cloned dogs through a medium, Javier Milei just won the presidency of what South American nation? Argentina

I always appreciate an unpredictable sentence. Seriously, if you hadn’t heard of this story, is there any point in which you could predict what would happen next? I don’t think ChatGPT could ever generate this sentence.

I don’t want to trivialize the fact that this dude has the endorsement of far-right politicians worldwide, and I’m not even gonna touch the tangle of “anarcho-capitalism.” But, still, here are some other wild details about this dude:

  • He has a tendency to swing chainsaws around, as a metaphor
  • He has a superhero alter-ego called “Captain Ancap”
  • He believes he first met his dog in a previous life as a gladiator, except the dog was a lion, and they didn’t actually fight because they were destined to meet again. And then the dog later told him that it was God’s mission for him to become president. Naturally

Pedantic predicaments

One of Merriam-Webster’s Words of the Week for 2021 was what oppressive legal status that Britney finally got free of that fall? Conservatorship

Yeah, we had a whole round last week on Britney Spears, what of it? It was her birthday week!

Anyway, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that I am a card-carrying Dictionary Appreciator, and good old M-W is always my go-to for definitions – and also pronunciations for when I realize I don’t actually know how to say “lychee.” (it’s LIE-chee, btw.) So I’ll always insist that we refer to it as Merriam-Webster, and not simply “Webster’s.” 

There’s actually a ton of other “Webster’s” dictionaries out there. M-W is the one directly descended from dictionary-daddy Noah Webster – the Merriam brothers bought the posthumous rights to his work. But Noah was such a big deal that other dictionaries called themselves “Webster’s” despite having no connection to the man – Webster’s New World Dictionary (HarperCollins) even became the preferred reference for the Associated Press. And yeah, M-W has beef. It makes other dictionaries using Webster’s name publish the disclaimer, “This dictionary is not published by the original publishers of Webster’s Dictionary, or by their successors.”

So the next time you start an essay with “The dictionary defines ‘pedantic’ as ‘narrowly, stodgily, and often ostentatiously learned,’’ make sure you let us know what dictionary that actually is.

Mark Gartsbeyn is a resident fact-checker at Questionist’s parent company, Geeks Who Drink. He writes a weekly column on the idiosyncrasies of his work, which appears on Questionist each Wednesday.