By John Willinsky

ISBN-10: 0691037191

ISBN-13: 9780691037196

ISBN-10: 1400813840

ISBN-13: 9781400813841

What is the which means of a be aware? so much readers flip to the dictionary for authoritative meanings and proper utilization. yet what's the resource of authority in dictionaries? a few dictionaries hire panels of specialists to mend that means and prescribe utilization, others depend upon derivation via etymology. yet maybe no different dictionary has performed extra to standardize the English language than the ambitious twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary in its 1989 moment variation. but this such a lot Victorian of recent dictionaries derives its which means by means of bringing up the earliest identified utilization of phrases and through demonstrating colors of which means via an amazing database of over 5 million examples of utilization in context. during this interesting examine, John Willinsky demanding situations the authority of this imperial dictionary, revealing a lot of its inherent prejudices and wondering the assumptions of its ongoing revision. "Clearly, the OED is not any easy list of the language `as she is spoke,'" Willinsky writes. "It is a selective illustration reflecting definite elusive rules concerning the nature of the English language and other people. Empire of Words unearths, by way of statistic and desk, incident and anecdote, how serendipitous, judgmental, and telling a job enhancing a dictionary reminiscent of the OED can be."

Willinsky analyzes the well-liked quotation files from the 3 editorial sessions of the OED's compilation: the Victorian, imperial first variation; the trendy complement; and the modern moment version composed on an digital database. He finds shifts in linguistic authority: the unique variation trusted English literature and, strangely, on translations, reference works, and journalism; the trendy versions have shifted emphasis to American assets and periodicals whereas carrying on with to overlook ladies, employees, and different English-speaking countries.

Willinsky's dissection of dictionary entries exposes contradictions and ambiguities within the movement from quotation to definition. He issues out that Shakespeare, the main often brought up authority within the OED, usually confounds the dictionary's uncomplicated feel of that means along with his wit and artfulness. He indicates us how the main well-known four-letter phrases within the language discovered their method via a belabored editorial approach, sweating and grunting, into the complement to the OED. Willinsky sheds significant gentle on how the OED maintains to form the English language throughout the occasionally idiosyncratic, usually biased number of citations through employed readers and impassioned associates of the language.

Anyone who's fascinated by phrases and language will locate Willinsky's journey in the course of the OED a pleasant and stimulating adventure. not anyone who reads this e-book will ever think rather an analogous approximately Murray's internet of words.

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Additional resources for Empire of words : the reign of the OED

Example text

But in later years the history of the Press was as closely associated with all of the dictionaries, histories, ‘companions,’ texts and books of verse which bear the name of Oxford” (cited in Barker, 1978, p. vi). At the same time that the Press undertook to support A New English Dictionary, the Philological Society was increasing the public’s involvement with the project through its reading and citation program. If the association with Oxford brought a certain exclusiveness to the project, the Society’s ongoing reading program maintained its openness to the breadth of the English reading experience.

As it was, Murray expanded the chronological reach of the dictionary to the gathering of words and citations from before the year 1000, back to the early vernacular translations of Alfred, king of the West Saxons. The original starting year of 1250, around which the original reading program was organized, had been accepted by the Society as “the commencement of English,” as opposed to “the preceding semi-Saxon” era (TPS, 1857, p. 9 As for local, slang, colonial, and scientific terms, they were only to qualify for inclusion in the dictionary a century later, with the editing of the Supplement.

Equally so, 1861 saw the distribution of a circular to Philological Society members containing a statement by Frederick Furnivall that did not miss the opportunity of capitalizing on this interest in building self-assuring monuments to the English race, even as he, ever the ardent democrat, tried to keep the language open to all: We have set ourselves to form a National Portrait Gallery, not only of the worthies, but of all the members, of the race of English words which is to form the dominant speech of the world.

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Empire of words : the reign of the OED by John Willinsky

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