Vol. 3, Issue 12, April 26, 2005
Oxford English Dictionary Absolutely, Positively Refuses to List "Smurf"
For the forty-seventh year in a row, the venerable Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has refused to add the word "smurf," leading to widespread protests and a Belgian boycott of the respected English dictionary.
"It is true that the mission of the OED is to attempt to record all known uses and variants of a word in all varieties of English, worldwide, past and present," said Chief Editor John Simpson. "But in this case, and after much debate, we have decided that we would do the English-speaking world a significant disservice by acknowledging the existence of this word. We do have ethical standards, you know."
The Smurfs are a fictional race of small blue creatures who live in a forest somewhere in Europe, created by Belgian cartoonist Peyo in 1958. They have enjoyed an enduring and, to many, perplexing popularity via cartoons, movies, and collectible figurines. Although Peyo died in 1992, the Belgian corporation Lombard Productions has kept the franchise alive, principally in Europe where the Smurfs are marketed in many languages.
"We are frankly dismayed at the baffling prejudice of the Oxford Dictionary editors," said Lombard vice president Gerard Maupin. "It is a last bastion of English resistance to Continental influence, a futile and dated one might I add."
The principal objection of the OED editors, according to many observers, is not based on cultural prejudice, but on the linguistic threat posed by the word "smurf," which raises serious philological quandaries.
"The Smurfs use this word, "smurf," as virtually every part of speech," said Stanford linguistics professor Carolyn Parnassus. "It is a kind of meta-sign which can serve as an adjective, adverb, article, auxiliary verb, clitic, coverb, conjunction, demonstrative, noun, preposition, preverb, pronoun, postposition, or quantifier. It means everything, and therefore nothing. The only way for the OED to really properly define the word would be to stick it in the preface and say "definition: see the following.""
It is also noted that the most comprehensive French dictionary, Le Grand Robert, doesn't list the little blue creatures either, despite the fact that the Smurfs are of French-language origin (the French word is "Schtroumpfs"). Yet the Lombard corporation is only criticizing the English language dictionary.
"That's because the OED editors are too polite," said Parnassus. "Do you know how much contempt the Grand Robert people managed to pack into the word "schtroumpf" when Lombard last complained to them about the omission? It was truly epic, the kind of pure concentrated disdain that can kill a man at 20 paces. Lombard never went back to them."
The OED editors are reportedly secretly working on imbuing an English word with the same degree of contempt and disdain, in order to deal with the persistent Smurf lobbying.
"Our congenital politeness is working against us, but our efforts have been very promising," said Simpson. "Thanks to some American collaborators, in a year or two we'll catch up to the French, and then hopefully we can put this matter to rest once and for all."