While the dictionary was partly compiled with 6-by-4-inch slips of paper, as in the 19th century, Ms. Barber was sent to Palo Alto, Calif., and Oxford, England, to learn computational lexicography. That enabled her and her staff to sort through a vast database of digitized Canadian publications, parliamentary debates and books that had been collected as a linguistics project by a Canadian university.
Several entries that made the final cut involved words used in most of Canada — like “eavestrough” for rain gutter and “keener,” “a person, esp. a student, who is extremely eager, zealous or enthusiastic.” But others were regional, like “parkade,” a Western Canadian term for parking garage, and “steamie,” a steamed hot dog in Quebec.
While Ms. Barber apparently had no favorites, at least one of the 2,000 Canadian words and meanings that made it into the first edition of the dictionary might have reflected her personal interests.
Ms. Hanna said her sister was a fan of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team and particularly of Serge Savard, one of its stars in the late 1960s and ’70s. “Spinarama,” “an evasive move, esp. in hockey, consisting of an abrupt 360-degree turn,” appears in the dictionary without a notation that the technique was first attributed to Savard.
When the Oxford Canadian Dictionary, which was based on a revised version of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, appeared in 1998, it was an immediate best seller. Ms. Barber escalated her long-running book tour.
Because she did not drive, she called on friends and family members to take her and boxes of dictionaries out to sell after public speaking events. The dictionary, and a 2004 edition that added about 200 more Canadianisms, became the standard word authority for Canadian news organizations and schools. Several spinoff versions were produced, including one for students.
“When the dictionary came out,” Mr. Sinkins said, “for some people it established for the first time that there was such a thing as a unique variety of English we can call Canadian.”