Kernerman Dictionary News • Number 10 • July 2002


Sexy Dictionary

Ilan J. Kernerman

Dictionaries and sex are worlds apart, but the world is changing and words change. As it gets more outspoken, sex and its words are increasingly attributed to denote anything but sex, and sexy now means interesting, exciting, fashionable (cf. LDOCE3, MEDAL, OALD6, and appendix).

Sex is natural and physical, sensual, essential; it embodies attraction, temptation, passion, satisfaction; it is instinctive, seemingly irresistible, and grabs instant attention. In these times of consumerism, as has maybe always been, it is the great teaser in marketing and sales, used for promoting sexy products, ideas, etc.

Dictionaries are, however, fruit of the mind, of studious thought and scientific labor; words in words, verbalizations, rationalizations, lists and order all put in frames and formations. Often this makes them staid and estranged, cumbersome and confusing - missing some intuition that is virtually inherent in lively communication. What waste of wonderful human knowledge!

Does it have to be so? Why do many fear dictionaries, use them only if they must or not at all? How can a dictionary be handy and friendly? Tell us what lexicography and poetry have in common, what makes dream-dictionaries real; how to give just the right information simply, clearly, fully; not patronize as a know-it-all scripture, but literally speak the language of the user and be sensitive to the media that is used.

Let it welcome, seduce, be pleasant to use and easy to understand, stimulating and gratifying, helping to wisen us up, to broaden horizons and lead on to new ground - be a sexy dictionary, not just a provoke title.

About the author
Ilan J. Kernerman manages K Dictionaries and edits Kernerman Dictionary News.

Thanks to Ramesh Krishnamurthy for researching sexy in the Bank of English.
An appendix containing his findings and analysis is online:

This contribution is a rewrite of an article in Studs, 2, 2001. Lund: Studentlitteratur.


K Dictionaries Ltd
10 Nahum Street, Tel Aviv 63503 Israel
tel: 972-3-5468102 • fax: 972-3-5468103