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PIRACY IN ARGOT DICTIONARIES' RICHARD A. SPEARS Many dictionaries are at least partial revisions of previous dictionaries. When a modern dictionary of standard English is based on some other work—a previous edition, or the legally obtained rights to some other didionary—the debt is usually acknowledged in the front matter. There are lapses in this practice, of course. Robert Burchfield demonstrates »that editors of dictionaries of standard English do not always reveal their heavy dependence on previous dictionaries, and he cites a number of interesting lines of descent in such dictionaries. He concludes his essay by suggesting that computers may serve further to establish lineages. In this paper I will be talking about a general and more blatant pradice in dictionaries of nonstandard English—specifically drug argot collections— where the work of previous authors is simply copied into a new dictionary or glossary with no acknowledgment of the earlier sources—a kind of "revision without permission." A computer examination of word lists from glossaries and dictionaries of this genre was used to reveal lines of earlier descent similar to what Burchfield found for standard dictionaries . In the preparation of The Slang and Jargon of Drugs and Drink, I constructed a simple computer database to be used as a directory or index to the sources and attestations used in the work. This database consisted of little more than the entry form, a gloss, and a code for the source. When alphabetized on the entry form, this large list suggested the various lineages of material. By simply scanning the list visually I could see frequently occurring combinations of sources. Of course, these correlations are only suggestive of a line of descent. Close comparison of definitions, subsenses, unique spelling and hyphenation, and typographical errors is required to support a case of suspected lexical piracy, and, of course, there may be explanations for these similarities other than lexical piracy. 124 Richard A. Spears125 The compilers of many glossaries and didionaries of argot do not acknowledge their sources even as well as the editors of dictionaries of standard English. Many collections of argot or slang are little more than reprintings of previous works augmented by the author's own terms and paraphrasings. More often than not, there is no acknowledgment of sources, even copyright sources. Some such collections are simply copied with no additions. As a case in point, it appears that A New Dictionary of the Canting Crew by a "B. E." (c. 1 700) was revised for the New Canting Dictionary (1725). Francis Grose added to that material for his dictionaries of 1785, 1788, and 1796. Those works became Clarke's Lexicon Balatronicum (1811), which was revised and reprinted by Pierce Egan in 1823. A problem arises when some of the same material appears in the Vocabulum of 1859 by the American, George Matsell. This work makes it seem as if most of the cant terms used in England from before 1 700 had been imported into the United States by the mid-1800s. Doubtless, some of them had been imported, but we will never find out which from studying Matsell. In the area of drug terminology, David W. Maurer seems to have become an involuntary exporter of drug terms. Maurer's original 1936 and 1938 glossaries of drug terms were implanted without acknowledgment in Berrey and Van den Bark's The American Thesaurus of Slang (1942), where they were harvested by Eric Partridge for use in his Dictionary of the Underworld (1949). Partridge was politely taken to task on this point in Maurer's review of the Dictionary of the Underworld. The thoughtful reply by Partridge was met with a more severe attack by Legman. The result was that the later editions of The American Thesaurus ofSlang and Dictionary of the Underworld carried appropriate acknowledgments of Maurer's original argot collection. That did not, however, break the chain. The same terms—now cut off from their history—continued to appear in other glossaries. 126Piracy in Argot Dictionaries The Maurer collections became the basis of a larger glossary in the four editions of Maurer and Vogel's Narcotics and Narcotic Addiction (1954, 1962, 1967, 1973). Parts of early versions of this larger...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 124-132
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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