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Urdang, Laurence 1927-2008

Urdang, Laurence 1927-2008


See index for CA sketch: Born March 21, 1927, in New York, NY; died of congestive heart failure, August 21, 2008, in Branford, CT. Lexicographer, educator, editor, and author. Urdang was a lover of words and phrases. He loved the look of words, the sound, the feeling as they rolled off his tongue in combinations that only he could conjure at will. He was able to combine his passion with a career that spanned more than half a century. It seemed only natural that someone whose enjoyment of words began in early childhood would later study linguistics in college and seek employment with a publisher of dictionaries and reference books. With the exception of a few years in the late 1950s as a lecturer at New York University, Urdang spent the rest of his life as a lexicographer and interpreter of the English language. Urdang joined the dictionary department of publisher Funk and Wagnalls in 1955, moving two years later to Random House, where he spent more than ten years. In 1969 he established his own company in Connecticut, where he wrote, compiled, or otherwise packaged more than one hundred dictionaries and other collections of words. There also, in 1974, he founded the magazine Verbatim for the kindred word lovers who called themselves logophiles. One of Urdang's most complex projects was the 2,000-page Random House Dictionary of the English Language. When it first appeared in the mid-1960s, it was not only the fruit of seven years' labor, it was reportedly the first lexicon to benefit from the technological innovations of the computer age. Urdang's lighthearted but serious devotion to the understanding and preservation of language led him to create the Verbatim Award for Pursuit of Scholars in Lexicography, a collaborative project with the European Association for Lexicography. The Laurence Urdang Award was created in his honor by the Dictionary Society of North America. Urdang never lost his delight with words or wordplay, and both sides of his fascination are reflected in the titles of his books. In addition to the conventional dictionaries, these include Dictionary of Confusable Words (1988), The Whole Ball of Wax and Other Colloquial Phrases (1988), and Every Bite a Delight and Other Slogans (1992). Urdang's last skirmish with words is contained in The Last Word: The English Language; Opinions and Prejudices (2007).



New York Times, August 26, 2008, p. C10.

Times (London, England), September 6, 2008, p. 65.

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