Writings > Lexical Leavings


The fifth edition of Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary (研究社 新和英大辞典 第5版)—the Green Goddess—began appearing in bookstores in Tokyo yesterday, twenty-nine years after the previous edition. In terms of number of entries and examples, the new edition is about sixty-five percent larger than the old; it has over seven hundred more pages, a slightly larger page format, and smaller type. Though there is still room for further expansion and improvement, it is clearly the biggest and best Japanese-English dictionary ever produced.

The revision project began around 1995, and I joined it part-time in April 2002. For the first ten months or so, I worked through text files that contained Japanese headwords and example sentences in Japanese, some with English translations but most without. I revised the existing English translations and provided new translations when needed. Well over a dozen other native English-speaking editors were doing similar work, and some produced much more than I did.

Later, I was shifted to answering questions from other editors, and toward the end of the project I devoted as much time as I could—never more than a couple of days a week, though—to reading galleys and trying to resolve last-minute problems. On the very last day, a Saturday in June 2003, I went to the printing plant in a suburb of Tokyo where nearly a dozen editors were giving a final check to the galleys. After lunch, we were given a tour of the plant and watched earlier sections of the dictionary being printed on several huge presses, and I received as souvenirs a full 32-page printed sheet and parts of the actual offset printing plate for the signature that includes page 1905; I later had the printed sheet and the corresponding plate for that page framed.

Framed page and printing plate

The new edition contains many new entries and many of the old entries were completely rewritten, but in the text files and even the later galleys there were still some questionable Japanese entries and archaic English expressions. Web search engines, particularly Google, were extremely valuable here, for they made it possible to determine to what extent particular words are in fact used.

One entry I happened across was
じゅん-かいそん 準海損 【保険】 quasi-average.
The entry had appeared in the 1954 and 1974 editions, but the word 準海損 got zero hits on Google and did not appear in any other dictionaries I checked, so I deleted it. Other entries were deleted for similar reasons; there seemed to be a consensus that if a word did not appear on the Web then it could usually be considered not to exist. (Once Google indexes this Lexical Leavings page, however, 準海損 will begin yielding at least one hit.*)

Other revisions made in galleys were updates, such as the change from 第二次吉田内閣 to 第二次小泉内閣 in the entry for 二次. As the dictionary was put to bed, it was possible to note the death of Gregory Peck (ペック) in 2003 (on June 12) but not that of Katharine Hepburn (ヘップバーン) two pages and seventeen days later.

Yesterday afternoon at about five-thirty, I went up to the seventh floor of the main Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku, Tokyo. I didn't see the dictionary for sale at first but I did spot a poster for it. A handwritten sign pasted on the poster said 12日入荷予定, but as I was looking at it an employee came up and pasted a new sign over it that said 好評発売中, and I discovered that there were about forty copies on display a few meters away. Although it must have just been put on the shelves, it seems that the dictionary was already receiving 好評.

(July 11, 2003)

*This page—and this one instance of 準海損—started appearing on Google around August 12, 2003.