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DOCUMENTATION IN THE OED: A PLEA FOR SUPPLEMENTARY STUDIES Jürgen Schäfer From Richard Bailey's detailed review1 readers of this journal may remember the present writer's monograph Documentation in the 'OED' (Oxford University Press, 1980). Its central function was to consider how accurately the growth of the English lexicon is reflected in OED's first citations and to project statistical forecasts based on a systematic re-examination of selected OED sources. The examination showed that about 100,000 main-lemma antedatings could be expected and would distribute unevenly, both alphabetically and chronologically. Approximately two thirds of all antedatings would fall within the first half of the alphabet; some 16,000 antedatings would effect a shift of more than 100 years; certain periods (e. g., the decades around 1600) would show a decrease in their share of first citations; others (e. g., the decades around 1550) would presumably increase their share. The objective of the study was not to discredit OED's chronological documentation but to identify and locate its specific deficiencies and to stimulate further research. It should be emphasized that there is no substitute for painstakingly registering the earliest known documentation for each lemma, though it is a truism that many words already existed before they first appeared in print. Fustilugs, "a woman of gross habit," for example, first documented in the OED for 1607, can be antedated half a century from Richard Sherry's rhetorical manual A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes (1550),2 where it illustrates the figure of antiphrasis: "Dictio contrarium significans, when the mock is in a worde by a contrarye sence, as when we call a fustilugges, a minion" (sig. C7 ). Since fustilugs was well enough known in 1550 to illustrate a rhetorical figure, it must have been coined even earlier and enjoyed some 145 146Documentation in the OED frequency; the Sherry citation is valuable because it brings us closer to the word's origin and also indicates its degree of familiarity. It is, therefore, of the greatest importance both for the history of the English language and for the history of ideas that the search for the earliest citation of each lemma should be intensified—with the caveat, of course, that absolute first citations must remain a chimera. Many additional findings have been published since Richard Bailey compiled his Early Modern English (1978);3 according to private communications several special projects are under way. It is regrettable, however, that the full potential of this arduous and time-consuming research is not always realized, and it is surely not amiss to review some of the pitfalls. Since several researchers have detailed their intentions to concentrate on new inventions and discoveries in tracing linguistic origins, it should be pointed out that their connection to new words is very complex and seldom as direct as might be expected. An interesting example is the submarine. Submarine prototypes had been constructed in the early seventeenth century, but the word submarine was applied to such constructions only much later (OED first citation: 1899). Earlier these craft were variously designated: the British Navy used diving-boat in 1802 (OED, s.v. diving, vbl. sb.), and this OED first citation can be antedated in turn from Thomas Nashe's Have With You to Saffron-Walden (1596): "Nay, sure, He performe as much as hee that went about to make the dyuing boate twixt Douver and Callis" (ed. McKerrow, III, 40.26-28). Nashe used the new term in his famous literary quarrel with Gabriel Harvey as a sneering rhetorical exemplum of an unfulfilled promise a quarter of a century before the Dutch inventor Cornelius van Drebel first demonstrated the remarkable new vehicle to King James on the River Thames. In other words, there is no quick method for discovering the origins of new words; all surviving records have to be carefully examined, and earlier instances of the most specialized expressions may turn up in unexpected places Jürgen Schäfer147 and surprising contexts. Scholars searching out antedatings should also bear in mind that the OED, though alphabetized according to modern spelling and normally subsuming historical variants under one lemma, occasionally assigns individual lemma status to variants. For example...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 145-149
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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