Good Reading : June 2015
Some babies sit up in their bassinets and say ‘I want to be Prime Minister – or a fireman – or a ballet dancer’. I was not one of these. I muddled through an oddly varied school career which culminated in an arts degree majoring in Latin and Greek. In passing I did a bit of linguistics, but not really enough to understand it. What linguistics I did learn, I learned on the job. My background of a bit of this and a bit of that was to prove very useful, but I am jumping ahead. I decided to return to the University of Sydney to study music, but unfortunately in the second year my job as receptionist at the Kings Cross Waxworks came to an end and I needed to focus on getting some money. I had a job in a chocolate factory in Haymarket as the girl on the mint-slice machine, but sadly I had a toothache and lasted only half an hour. I found a job as a skiver in a belt factory, but after two days I left without attempting to get my pay. These were all interesting experiences, but I decided that they were not the right way for me. I was a good middle-class girl and I need a good middle-class job so that I could save up money for my next stint at the music course. And so I answered an advertisement for a research assistant on a new dictionary project, and was duly interviewed by Professor Arthur Delbridge. I got the job and began work at the dictionary office in North Ryde where, so Arthur told me later, I sulked for the first year because I thought I should be getting on with my life as the Great Australian Composer. Somewhere along the way I became interested in the dictionary and finally a part of it. The first years were lively for us all because we were learning how to write a dictionary as we went along. Meetings were held over a steak sandwich at El Rancho. John Bernard, one of the editors, practised his singing in the stairwell. We had a sense that the dictionary had a purpose and schedule and a publisher who was in control. This last notion was shattered by an upheaval in the publishing world which saw the dictionary project close down for a while and then move to Macquarie University as a research project. Our new home was a cottage on the university grounds that we shared with the plumbers, which led to an emphasis GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING JUNE 2015 48 THE ACCIDENTAL LEXICOGRAPHER SUSAN BUTLER didn’t grow up with a burning passion to become a lexicographer, or compiler of dictionaries. It was only an ad in the paper that started her life as a research assistant with Macquarie Dictionary. Now the author of The Aitch Factor: Adventures in Australian English, Susan tells of how she made her way from the factory floor to become the editor of Australia’s leading dictionary. AUTHOR PROFILE 2 THE MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION ABOUT THE DICTIONARY IS ‘HOW DO WORDS GET INTO THE DICTIONARY?’ ??!!$XM@@A*?