Lately I have been very busy working on finishing a collection of dictionary entries for a booklet of interdenominational Jewish blend words. These are blends like conformodox, conservadox, conservaform, flexidoxy, jagnostic, jatheist, reconformodox, reconservadox, reformative, reformodox, and reservadox. Some Jews self-identify using these words if their personal practice of Judaism happens to draw upon two or more streams of Jewish tradition such as Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, or Reconstructionist.
Creating dictionary entries for these terms mostly involves tracking down quotations that use these terms. Some of these quotations will end up in the dictionary entry too as illustrative examples of the term in use. Reading through hundreds of quotations for these terms is a crucial part of the process of figuring out what exactly people mean when they use these terms.
In the case of conservadox (Conservative + Orthodox), one of the more common Jewish interdenominational blends, the quotations showed that there were multiple ways in which the term was commonly used, and so I differentiated between these ways using distinct numbered meanings in the dictionary entry. See below for screenshots of the entry “conservadox”:
As you can see from these numbered definitions, conservadox can be used to refer to a synagogue (sense 1) or it can be used to refer to a Jew’s personal practice of Judaism (sense 3), among its other meanings (senses 2, 4, and 5). Discovering distinctions in the way the term has been used was only possible by reading hundreds of quotations for “conservadox” and identifying trends and clusters of meaning.
Besides reading quotations, the other big activity that takes place when researching a group of terms is interviewing consultants. While I’m reading quotations I will often come across a really apt quote in a book or magazine article or an interesting comment on a blog, and I’ll make a note to try to reach out to the author of the quote and talk with them about the meaning of the word they used. This means writing out dozens of letters and mailing them through the postal system, which I do if the author works at a college or university or organization and they provide a mailing address for contacting them. But in a lot of cases I can just use any email provided or a contact form on their blog or website. I have even sent messages via Twitter and Instagram.
Despite the fact that I am contacting people out of the blue to ask about something they have written years earlier, everyone has been very gracious and helpful. All the consultants who have helped me gain a clearer understanding will be gratefully acknowledged in the “Thanks” section of the forthcoming booklet.