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  • James Joyce and lexicography:"I must look that word up. Upon my word I must" (Logodaedalus, 'one who is cunning in words', 1611)
  • Tony Crowley (bio)


James Joyce's fascination with the resources of the English language took many forms — from the use of specific local words which situate the short stories of Dubliners precisely in the Irish metropolis all the way through to the linguistic experimentation of Finnegans Wake which prompts the questions "are we speachin d'anglas landage" (Joyce 1975, 485) or is this "nat language at any sinse of the world" (Joyce 1975: 83)? In this article, however, I want to take as my focus Joyce's interest in lexicography as a way of thinking about the cultural and political significance which has been attached to what Stephen Dedalus, in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, refers to somewhat ironically as one "little word": tundish (Joyce 1992, 204). In order to do so it will be necessary to begin with the logomachy — a word first attested in 1569 to mean "contention about words" and created on the basis of the Greek logomachia (from λόγος 'word', μαχία 'fighting') between the young Irishman Stephen Dedalus and the English dean of studies which constitutes one of the central passages in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The complicated exchange between these two characters takes the form of an extensive contest of cultural and political authority which focuses on understanding the contextual meaning of words. There are two instances in which Stephen gains the upper hand over the dean: first when the dean takes Stephen's metaphorical phrase working by their light (in reference to the ideas of Aristotle and Aquinas) to refer to an actual lamp [End Page 87] (in this case the lamp used by the philosopher Epictetus). And second when the dean misunderstands Stephen's deployment of the use/mention distinction:

— One difficulty, said Stephen, in esthetic discussion is to know whether words are being used according to the literary tradition or according to the tradition of the marketplace. I remember a sentence of Newman's in which he says of the Blessed Virgin that she was detained in the full company of the saints. The use of the word in the marketplace is quite different. I hope I am not detaining you.

(Joyce 1992, 203)

The dean's response reveals both his miscomprehension and his subsequent embarrassment at having been bested by the young student:

  • — Not in the least, said the dean politely.

  • — No, no, said Stephen, smiling, I mean...

  • — Yes¸ yes: I see, said the dean quickly, I quite catch the point: detain.

He thrust forward his under jaw and uttered a dry short cough.

(Joyce 1992, 203)

Both examples of linguistic misunderstanding serve as the preface to the more important contestation of cultural authority which follows and which begins with Stephen's questioning of the dean's use of the word funnel to refer to the instrument by which oil is poured into a lamp.

  • — That? said Stephen. Is that called a funnel? Is it not a tundish?

  • — What is a tundish?

  • — That. The... the funnel.

  • — Is that called a tundish in Ireland? asked the dean. I never heard the word in my life

  • — It is called a tundish in Lower Drumcondra, said Stephen laughing, where they speak the best English.

  • — A tundish, said the dean reflectively. That is a most interesting word. I must look that word up. Upon my word I must.

(Joyce 1992, 203-4)

This is the turning point in the encounter — the moment at which the priest exercises cultural and linguistic authority over Stephen by treating him with condescension. The force of the put-down is made clear as the priest, after a moment's silence, demonstrates his triumph by contravening [End Page 88] the rules of conversation by speaking once more: "The dean repeated the word yet again. — Tundish! Well now, that is interesting!" (Joyce 1992, 204-5).

The victory is achieved by a number of rhetorical ploys. After having asked what a "tundish" is, the dean implies that the word does not belong to his form of the English language — "I never heard the word...