Ong notes that one of the overlooked reasons for the criticism relates to the "psychological structures which alphabetic literacy fosters and on which a dictionary builds." That is, one cannot truly understand the dictionary without first understanding the role which the alphabet plays in speech. Ong underscores the tremendous differences between hearing a word and viewing it on a printed page. After describing the process by which typographers set type, Ong explains that the process, indeed the use of the alphabet, is a constraining element in the world of language. It is important to understand that it is a world of such constraint from which the dictionary was born.
Created in this world of constraint, the dictionary is thus expected to adhere to many constraints of its own. Ong indicates that early entries into the previous editions of the dictionary were those words used by the elite, not the vernacular. In Webster III, there is more of a reliance on what is heard than ever before. Indeed, Ong indicates that the dictionary is just one more sign of the trend in "oral-aural" culture. After examining such an argument, Ong asserts, the rationale behind the criticism of Webster III is clear; however, Ong argues that critics should abandon such an exacting, rule-centered schema. Ong also addresses the subject of grammar and usage in his article "Grammar and the Twentieth Century."
P. Gregory Gibson
University of Dayton