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New-Word Lexicography and the OED Bernadette Patón Introduction Determining the policy and strategy for the inclusion of new words in a historical dictionary is one of the most controversial aspects of the lexicographer's job. To the public at large, the appearance of a neologism in one of the major English language dictionaries is evidence that the word or phrase has "arrived." But the task of deciding which of the thousands of coinages published and broadcast each year are likely to survive is by no means a clear-cut one. For those who spend their days deciding whether a word or phrase is or is not part of the language, the boundaries between "real" words and eccentric inventions, irrelevant ephemera, and simple discrepancies of usage can be blurred and arbitrary. In the words of Sir James Murray: The English language is not a square with definite sides containing its area; it is a circle, . . . nowhere bounded by any line called a circumference. It is a spot of colour on a damp surface, which shades away imperceptibly into the surrounding colourlessness. To the lexicographer falls the unenviable task of delineating the circle , of drawing a line of circumference and declaring that everything contained widiin it is part of the language while that without, must, for the moment at least, remain beyond the pale. But the business of so circumscribing the language is not one with which the English language lexicographer feels comfortable. The wordsmiths of many languages, especially those minority languages in danger of being swallowed up by transnational linguistic giants like English and Spanish, frequently and with some justification fear 80Bernadette Patón the encroachment of these languages on their own. In such cases, there is often a well-established tradition of prescriptive, nationalist lexicography ; dictionary editors have made it their business to define clearly and strictly the parameters of the native language and to allow no outside intrusion on its domain. But English has never had need of such safeguards. A worldwide population of nearly 300 million native speakers has ensured that the English language is not in danger of extinction. As a result, its lexicographers have in modern times been allowed the luxury of developing a descriptive rather than a prescriptive disposition . Traditionally die large historical dictionaries, both British and American, have undertaken to reflect die richness of the language, rather than to regulate its vagaries. This very disinclination to restrict, however, gives rise to a multitude of problems. How do we decide when a word appropriated from another language has become naturalized enough to warrant inclusion in an English dictionary? And how do we distinguish between "real" words and mere grammatical vagaries? (Hopefully in the sense 'it is hoped' was once regarded as erroneous but is now widely accepted ; flaunt, used to mean 'flout', is abhorred by grammatical purists but is often used in popular parlance, and will no doubt follow the same route as hopefully.) Further, at what point do we accept a conversion or part-of-speech transferral as more than an oddity (as to mirror and to holiday must once have been, and to author, to statement , and to action still seem to many people)? The question of determining which words to include and which to omit in an English language dictionary, then, is open to controversy and debate. This paper, however, is not intended as a contribution to that debate on a theoretical level; it is not a philosophical defense of a particular strategy for die inclusion of new words. Rather, it is a summary of the practical experience of a new-word editor in selecting , researching, and compiling information for a new entry; in that sense, it is, like the historical lexicographer's job, descriptive rather than prescriptive. This practical focus is in keeping with the tradition of the OED, which has always been at the hands-on end of the language, concerned less with linguistic theory than widi the task of illustrating how the lexicon has worked in the past and demonstrating how it works now. While this presentation is intended to demonstrate and illustrate rather than to debate, the description of how new words are selected and edited...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 79-89
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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