The Mistress of Slang

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

In 2020, on Perry Street in Manhattan’s West Village, there lived a woman named Madeline Kripke, and her books. Kripke was 76, and she had been collecting dictionaries, and books about dictionaries, most of her life, almost since her parents gave her Webster’s Collegiate when she was 10.

Kripke was not a collector like you or I would be. Dictionaries lined not only the shelves she had specially built for them but every surface in her sizable two-bedroom apartment. Drawers were pulled out to make more surfaces on which to stack books, which also lay atop the refrigerator and on her bed. Books stood in towers along the floor, with narrow passageways to ease through. “It’s the biggest collection of dictionaries, period,” said the lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower, author of The F-Word, a history of that verb. Sheidlower is one of a cohort of lexicographers who knew Kripke and used her books, and her knowledge, to inspire their own work. Of her collection, “it’s better than what’s in the Bodleian and the NYPL combined,” he said, referring to libraries at the University of Oxford and in New York City.

Kripke wasn’t only a collector. She read dictionaries and compared them. She knew what her 20,000 volumes contained, and she loved sharing that with people who cared about what she knew. Along with her apartment, she had at least two Manhattan warehouses, each with “more stuff in it than probably any slang collection anywhere else in the country,” said Tom Dalzell, co-editor of The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. She had a nose for finding obscure titles and dictionary memorabilia, like correspondence between two Merriam brothers about how to buy the rights to a dictionary from the estate of a guy named Webster. And she was a good businesswoman: Rare-book collectors would be interested in something and approach Sotheby’s, and “Madeline would have it before anyone knew it was there,” said Sheidlower.

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education