Round-Up: Merriam-Webster, Liu Yongbiao, and White House Arts Committee

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From Merriam-Webster’s new Time Traveler project to the resignations of the remaining members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, here’s the latest in literary news:


Merriam-Webster launched an online Time Traveler feature on August 14 that allows users to select a date and view all words that were published during that time. The list is long: options are “before twelfth century,” twelfth century, thirteenth century, fourteenth century, fifteenth century, then each individual year from 1500 through 2010. In a press release, the publisher wrote that exploring the feature is “surprising and enlightening, with many words first recorded much earlier or later than one might expect.” Some words—“hashtag” (2007) and “meme” (1976)—will be more familiar to twenty-first century folks than others such as “roentgenium” (2004), which is a kind of radioactive element. The dates associated with some words may be updated, the company noted, if and when new information about “first-known-use dates” is discovered. Lisa Schneider, the company’s chief digital officer and publisher, said she recommends users look up personal milestone—birthday, anniversary—years to see what words were published then.


A Chinese crime novelist and member of China Writers’ Association, Liu Yongbiao, was arrested in the province of Anhui, accused of murdering four people in November 1995 at a hostel in Zhejiang Province. The victims included the couple who ran the hostel, their 13-year-old grandson, and a guest. No suspects were arrested at the time. After reopening the case this June, police used new DNA technology to connect fifty-three-year-old Liu and another man to the killings. Allegedly, the two men went to the hostel to steal from guests, and after being seen by one man, killed him and the three others to cover up the crime. In the preface to his 2010 novel The Guilty Secret, Liu wrote that he wanted to tell a story about a writer who commits murder and evades arrest. He wrote that his inspiration was drawn from “reading some detective novels and watching crime shows and movies.”


All sixteen members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, including writer Jhumpa Lahiri, have resigned from the group, following Trump’s comments about the violent demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, and his defense of white nationalist groups. Members of the committee, which was created by President Ronald Reagan in 1982, sent their letter to the White House on August 18, writing to Trump: “Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville.” In addition to Lahiri, other resigning members include artist Chuck Close and actor Kal Penn. Members of the committee had been appointed during Obama’s administration. While some resigned after Trump’s win last November, the remaining members had planned to stay until Trump named successors.