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Labels Revisited: Objectivity and the OED L; Lynda Mugglestone abeling is, for the lexicographer, often a particularly problematic area, one in which consistency can be hard to achieve and consensus elusive. Even the decision to append one field label rather than another can generate controversy; status labels offer still greater potential for dissent. This, as Richard Bailey confirms, is the "most artistic" as well as the "least scientific" part of the lexicographer 's work, embedded in the lexicographer's own sense of the language , and in his (or her) own judgments about usage (Ekbo 1980, 310). In this context, the fact that the OED has regularly been commended for its marked sense of objectivity is striking. As Frederic G. Cassidy stated in a recent article in this journal, though affinities between the OED and Samuel Johnson's more prescriptive Dictionary of 1755 can be detected in the shared, and entirely neutral, use of terms such as arch., colloq., dial., ellipt., euphem., fig., lit., and techn., other aspects of labeling practice remain entirely distinct. Cassidy stresses that Murray "[avoids] Johnson's 'bad, barbarous, corrupt, low, vulgar,'" and further confirms that "the closest Murray comes to these are 'error, informal, prop[erly]'; he and the other editors held to this objective pattern of labeling to the last volume (1928) and the Supplement (1933)" (1997, 110). The authoritarian edicts perceptible in some ofJohnson's labels do indeed find few counterparts in the OED. Sensiblem the sense 'reasonable ; judicious; wise' is, for instance, dismissed byJohnson (and labeled accordingly) as a marker of "low conversation," in spite of the accompanying citation from Addison which appears in a stylistic context evidently anything but "low" (i.e., "I have been tired with accounts from sensible men, furnished with matters of fact, which have happened Dictionaries:fournal oftheDictionary Society ofAmerica2l (2000) Labels Revisited: Objectivity and the OED23 within their own knowledge"). Shambling ("Moving aukwardly or irregularly ") is similarly proscribed; it is "a low bad word," irrespective of its deployment by Dryden and the Cambridge Platonist, John Smith. The fact that in both these instances, as in countless others, the OED instead presents impeccably substantiated entries, establishing usage without that element of the ipse dixitwhich can be evident inJohnson, is of course clear testimony to its construction within a different era of lexicographic and linguistic history. As Richard Chenevix Trench proclaimed to the Philological Society in London in November 1857, heralding the making of what was to be a "new" English dictionary in more than name alone, the role of the lexicographer was henceforth to be historian rather than critic, witness rather than judge. Maintaining an "impartial hospitality" towards English and its use, "the business he has undertaken is to collect and arrange all the words, whether good or bad, whether they do or do not commend themselves to hisjudgment" (1860, 4). Individual predilections (and prejudices) were emphatically to be discounted in favor of the systematic and scientific recording of words. Similarly, in the descriptive paradigms emphatically adopted, it was usage rather than notions of correctness which would confer legitimization upon language and its forms. The principle of labeling formally adopted within the OED duly respects these guidelines. According to the Cañones Lexicographici of 1860, labeling would operate as a form of "characterization" of words, setting out indications of their "age and currency" (as in obs. for "obsolete," arch, for "archaic"), their "rhetorical value" (poet, for "poetical ,"fam. for "familiar"), or their "technical status" (leg. for "legal," Her. for "heraldic"). The model is further refined in Murray's "General Explanations ," which prefaced both the first part of the dictionary in 1884 and its first volume issued in 1888. Included there as part of the "Identification" of words, labels are divided into two main categories: Specification designates the type of label applied to "words of more or less specific use" as in Biol. ("Biology") and Mus. ("Music"); status denotes the practice of labeling within the OED "where there is any peculiarity ," and includes labels such as obs., arch., colloq., dial., rare, and nonce (1884-1928, xxx). No complete list of labels is given though it is clear that, in the early days of the dictionary, there were undoubted efforts...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 22-36
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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