Hollywood Is A Verb: Los Angeles Tackles the Oxford English Dictionary

This March, the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Public Library invite readers across the city to explore the most epic of dictionaries and rethink the fundamental importance of language — both in Southern California and beyond — with Hollywood Is a Verb: Los Angeles Tackles the Oxford English Dictionary.


Through a month-long, city-wide series of public programs, the Foundation and Library will ask readers to consider the richness and complexity of words as a primary form of human expression; how dictionaries mirror social change; how the Oxford English Dictionary reveals the true nature of English as a cross-pollinated language; and much much more.


“The Los Angeles Public Library is devoted to the power of words, access to information, and meeting the diverse needs of Angelenos,” said City Librarian John F. Szabo. “Located in our multicultural metropolis, we are in the perfect place to consider the contemporary significance of the Oxford English Dictionary – the first example of globally crowdsourced scholarship.”




The OED is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of 600,000 words, three million quotations, and over 1,000 years of English— past and present—from across the English-speaking world. Updated every three months, the OED began more than 150 years ago and is owned by the Oxford University Press.


Kicking off the first week of March, the project will feature more than 60 librarian-created events and activities across the six regions of the Los Angeles Public Library, from Northridge to San Pedro, El Sereno to Mar Vista. With programs ranging from poetry workshops to dictionary-themed improv, art projects to word game tournaments, library patrons of all ages will have the opportunity to consider, or discover for the first time, the Oxford English Dictionary. Los Angeles Public Library cardholders have free access to the Oxford English Dictionary at lapl.org.

Ammon Shea, "Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages"

During the month, the Library Foundation will partner with the Hammer Museum for a series of Westside Hollywood is a Verb programs: On March 3, National Book Award-winning author James Gleick (The Information) and UCSD Professor of Cognitive Science Lera Boroditsky sit down for a conversation about how knowledge systems like the Oxford English Dictionary mirror or change the way the human brain functions. On March 8, the Library Foundation presents a concert inspired by the rules and idiosyncrasies of the English language, featuring Nico Muhly and Maira Kalman’s “The Elements of Style” and special commissions from Los Angeles-based composers Anne LeBaron and Scott Worthington, performed by new music collective wasteLAnd. And on March 13, the Hammer’s Libros Schmibros Book Club discusses Ammon Shea’s “Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages.”


The Library Foundation’s award-winning and critically-acclaimed ALOUD series joins in on the conversation on March 15, as the legendarily forthright writer Jamaica Kincaid (Annie John) and linguist/author Sarah Ogilvie (Words of the World: A Global History of the OED) discuss the OED as an example of global crowd-sourcing, as well as explore its relationship to the British Empire’s colonial enterprise.


On April 11, ALOUD welcomes linguist, political commentator, and author John McWhorter (The Power of Babel) for a conversation with genre-busting author Mark Z. Danielewski (House of Leaves) about whether dictionaries support or inhibit the idiosyncratic use of language as a means of creative expression.

Also at Central Library, on March 29, the Library Foundation’s film series, Lost & Found at the Movies, looks at the fascinating way languages in film and television – from Klingon to Na’vi – are crafted to enhance the world of storytelling. During the evening, series curator John Nein of the Sundance Film Festival will welcome linguist and language builder David J. Peterson to discuss his work creating Dothraki and High Valyrian (Game of Thrones) and Shiväisith (Thor: The Dark World), as well as his recent book, The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building.


On March 19, the project will culminate with A Very L.A. Spelling Bee, an innovative Spanish and English language spelling bee, in partnership with language justice collaborative Antena (providing live interpretation) and writing and tutoring organization 826LA. During the day, downtown’s historic Central Library will be turned into a language hub of sorts with word games, live Oxford English Dictionary readings, special dictionary-inspired puppet shows from Tree of Wonders, and more. The day will also see activities related to words and communication happening at library branches across the city.


Throughout the month, the Library Foundation will also be collecting Los Angeles -specific words on Twitter and at lfla.dev/oed for a highly idiosyncratic Southern California Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary. Also online, visitors will find a timeline of California words entering the Oxford English Dictionary; a specially-commissioned short film directed by Augusta Dayton featuring word definitions provided by students at 826LA; an essay on the peculiar mechanics of the OED’s creation and perpetual recreation by linguist and USC Professor Edward Finegan; and further reading suggestions about words, language, and the Oxford English Dictionary.


The title inspiration and artwork for Hollywood is a Verb: Los Angeles Tackles the Oxford English Dictionary was graciously provided by artist Ed Ruscha and from the collection of The Broad Art Foundation.


The Library Foundation of Los Angeles is grateful to The WHH Foundation, The Skoll Foundation, and Participant Media for their generous support of the project.


To learn more about Hollywood Is a Verb and related activities, visit lfla.dev/oed or ask your neighborhood librarian. And join the conversation by tagging your tweets and posts with #DictionaryLA!

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