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Meet our Canadian Lexicographers

Katherine Barber, Editor-in-Chief

'Canada's Word Lady' Katherine Barber, Editor-in-Chief of the award-winning and bestselling Canadian Oxford Dictionary, is known for her lively and engaging take on the history of our language. She is a regular guest on radio and TV across Canada. She grew up in Winnipeg and studied French at the Universities of Winnipeg and Ottawa. She has been Editor-in-Chief of Canadian Dictionaries at Oxford University Press since 1991 and has overseen the production of over a dozen dictionaries. She received the Canadian Booksellers Associations Editor of the Year Award in 1999 and the University of Winnipeg Distinguished Alumni Award in 2000. Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to do with Pigs was on the Maclean's bestseller list for 14 weeks in 2006. In March 2007, her book Only in Canada You Say, A Treasury of Canadian Language, was published. Her interests outside lexicography are ballet, travelling, choral singing, gardening, and cooking.

Robert Pontisso, Lexicographer

In Canada, spelling is serious business. No one understands that better than Robert Pontisso, a lexicographer with Oxford University Press and co-editor of The Canadian Oxford Spelling Dictionary.

"Canadians, on the whole, are very passionate about spelling," he muses, "much more so than Americans, say, or the British. For many Canadians spelling is a matter of national identity."

This national spelling hypersensitivity might scare off most would-be compilers of a Canadian spelling guide, but having worked for years on The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Robert took it all in stride.

Born into an immigrant family in Etobicoke, Ontario, Robert became interested in the growth and development of the English language while a graduate student at the University of Toronto. Canadian usage, in particular, intrigued him. "I used to drive my friends nuts," he confesses. "In the middle of a conversation I'd ask them to repeat some word I'd heard them use or pronounce in an interesting or odd way. I still do that sometimes, and it still bugs them, but now I can get away with it by calling it 'professional interest'!"

As it turned out, this ear for the subtleties of language use, combined with a wide range of personal interests, made Robert an ideal candidate for a lexicographical position at Oxford University Press. Hired as a primary editor for The Canadian Oxford Dictionary in 1993, back when the team had just embarked on the letter A, Robert saw the project through to Z. When the book was published in 1998, Robert and his colleagues were proud of their accomplishment, and were thrilled to see their dictionary become a best-seller.

Fresh from the success of Oxford's general-purpose dictionary, Robert focused specifically on Canadian spelling. Since the publication of The Canadian Oxford Spelling Dictionary, he has worked on The Canadian Oxford High School Dictionary, and is currently in the process of editing The Canadian Oxford Paperback Thesaurus for publication in 2003.

Tom Howell, Associate Editor

Before moving to Toronto to join the dictionary department, Tom wrote, played music, and worked in several British Columbia communities, including Williams Lake, Cranbrook, Smithers, Nanoose Bay, Saltspring Island, Vancouver, and Victoria. As a journalist covering the general news beat, he encountered the language as used by loggers, ranch hands, teachers, artisans, hunters, snowmobilers, politicians, and protesters. As an editor, he worked on books of folk history, environmental activism, sailing, and travel, which all helped to prepare him for the breadth of topics faced by a lexicographer each day. He wrote songs and performed wherever he travelled, a musical sideline that has resulted in several albums and airplay on CBC Radio and university stations, in addition to a series of cowboy poetry performances at a Cariboo rodeo! He holds a degree in Writing from the University of Victoria and a Master of Publishing from Simon Fraser University.

Heather Fitzgerald, Associate Editor

After completing university degrees in English at Victoria and Calgary, Heather migrated East to pursue writing and editing opportunities in Toronto. She worked several years as a copywriter for advertising and marketing companies during that time, and she became fascinated by how the change of a simple preposition in a line of advertising copy could spark serious, and often passionate, debates in the boardroom. She was then convinced, if she had not been before, of the very real power of language to not only describe our experiences of the world, but to shape and influence them as well. After the birth of her first child in 2001, Heather made a career shift into the world of publishing to join the lexicography team at Oxford University Press in September 2002. She has since worked on the Paperback Oxford Canadian Thesaurus, the new Oxford ESL Dictionary, as well as the new edition of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Heather also writes book reviews that appear in Quill & Quire and other publications.