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THE NEW OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY PROJECT AT WATERLOO N. C. Hultin and H. M. Logan With publication of the fourth supplementary volume to the Oxford English Dictionary (1984), a stage has been reached similar to that achieved in 1933, when a supplementary volume corrected and brought up to date the original twelve volumes of 1928. The new supplement is intended to replace the one from 1933 and to extend the record of our knowledge of the English language to the present day. Again Oxford University Press is confronted with the problem of a future for the Dictionary. With the creation of this monument of scholarship, the work could once more be thought complete. To disband the superb staff of lexicographers and editors and store the vast files of unused information is a waste both of talent and resources. Moreover, there is every reason to continue the work, recording new items and revising old. To add supplements to the present supplements, however, is impractical. While such a method preserves intact the original edition as a historical document, the awkwardness involved in consulting several volumes for information restricts the value of the work as a guide to recent knowledge. Constant revision and addition are necessary if the OED is to be a useful tool and not just a historical monument. Oxford University Press and the editors of the OED thus turned—with some initial reluctance perhaps—to another possibility, to "computerize" the vast number of items in the dictionary, supplements, and perhaps those items which remain unused in their files, thereby circumventing the need for further supplements and at the same time providing more efficient means for publication. Editions could be made available with new and old material blended, and modifications could be introduced with minimum trouble. On May 15, 1984, Oxford announced that it was proceeding with plans to "keyboard" the OED and produce both "hard 128 Jürgen Schäfer129 "tangent" was first expressed in English not in Thomas Blundeville's Exercises of 1594 (who in turn followed Thomas Fincke's neo-Latin tangens in 1583), but rather more than a generation earlier. For the investigator of style it is not without interest that tangent and touch-line were concurrent synonyms for nearly a century and could be used alternatively. The OED, based "on historical principles," registers both expressions but treats them differently, since this dictionary also reflects the usage at the time of its compilation. In its definition for touch-line, "a straight line that touches a curve; a tangent. Obs.," it practically, though not systematically, cross-references touch-line to tangent; under this word, however, we find no reference to touch-line, since this expression was long since obsolete when the article on tangent was compiled. This conceptual deficiency of the OED will be remedied in part by the "Historical Thesaurus of English," now under preparation at the University of Glasgow. Modelled on Roget's Thesaurus and excerpting OED's semantic subdivisions, the experimental "Historical Thesaurus" should prove indispensable to scholars in many fields.4 Since this voluminous new compilation will necessarily restrict itself to cross-referencing existing OED entries, a specifically early modern English phenomenon will remain uncovered. There are considerable gaps in OED's registration for early names for new ideas, especially if they had a comparatively short life span and were soon replaced by an alternative expression surviving to the present day. Quite apart from the fact that a number of these omissions involve several decades or even generations, there is a basic problem inherent to OED's "historical principles." The dictionary stated as its goal the inclusion of all English words "now in use, or known to have been in use since the middle of the twelfth century."5 The second of these categories provides, of course, for the exclusion of Old English words which did not survive into the Middle English period; but the fact that the category "now in use," 130History of Ideas and Cross-Referencing redundant in strictly logical terms, is mentioned at all, underscores a lexicographical philosophy anchored to contemporary usage. Despite the fact that it has remained our most comprehensive historical compilation for the modern English period and despite...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 128-144
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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