Monday, August 13, 2012

Repoint: Not your average word (at all)

"Repointing, also known simply as 'pointing' or--somewhat inaccurately--'tuck pointing' is the process of removing deteriorated mortar from the joints of a masonry wall and replacing it with new mortar. Properly done, repointing restores the visual and physical integrity of the masonry. Improperly done, repointing not only detracts from the appearance of the building, but may also cause physical damage to the masonry units themselves." [1]

That certainly sounds important. The International Masonry Institute (IMI), which is the training arm of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Crafts (BAC), has an instructional manual titled Repointing Masonry Walls. The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Rehabilitation of Historic Structures discusses repointing masonry rather extensively. The CSI Master Format, used by AIA architects to specify work in the US and elsewhere, has entire sections dedicated to repointing brick and stone masonry.  The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) train their members to recommend repointing masonry that has deteriorated mortar joints.  Publications like 'This Old House,' 'Fine Homebuilding' and Clem Labine's various journals print articles on the topic regularly.  That covers a pretty broad demographic.

Would you be surprised to learn that, technically, repoint is not a word?  So, how does it become a word?  I've done some research and found this out:

To decide which words to include in the dictionary and to determine what they mean, Merriam-Webster editors study the language as it's used. They carefully monitor which words people use most often and how they use them.  Each day most Merriam-Webster editors devote an hour or two to reading a cross section of published material, including books, newspapers, magazines, and electronic publications; in our office this activity is called "reading and marking."  The marked passages are then input into a computer system and stored both in machine-readable form and on 3" x 5" slips of paper to create citations.   Each citation has the following elements:
  1. the word itself
  2. an example of the word used in context
  3. bibliographic information about the source from which the word and example were taken
Before a new word can be added to the dictionary, it must have enough citations to show that it is widely used. But having a lot of citations is not enough; in fact, a large number of citations might even make a word more difficult to define, because many citations show too little about the meaning of a word to be helpful. A word may be rejected for entry into a general dictionary if all of its citations come from a single source or if they are all from highly specialized publications that reflect the jargon of experts within a single field. [2]

To be included in a Merriam-Webster dictionary, a word must be used in a substantial number of citations that come from a wide range of publications over a considerable period of time. Specifically, the word must have enough citations to allow accurate judgments about its establishment, currency, and meaning.  Does repoint satisfy this criteria?  I sure think so and I'm leading an initiative to add it to the dictionary--check out my license plate!


[1] Mack, Robert C., FAIA, and Speweik, John P. Repointing Mortar Joints in Historic Masonry Buildings. Technical Preservation Services, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior

[2] How does a word get into Merriam-Webster Dictionary?


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