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A NUMBER OF PROBLEMS FOR THE NEW SHORTER OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY1 LESLEY S. BURNETT The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles is a reabridgement, revision, and updating of the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (when the project began, of the first edition with its four-volume Supplement ). It will supersede the current SOED, which was first published in 1933 and which has received only limited editorial attention since. The main objective of the first phase of the New OED project was to computerize and integrate the existing OED and Supplement texts. Some recent words and senses were added, the phonetics were converted to IPA, and a number of the more glaringly out-of-date references and terms were modified. But it was not a major part of its brief to improve or modernize OED standing matter, to rectify its anomalies, or to supply missing members of incomplete sets, as it was not of the Supplement before it. So members of the New SOED team have been the first to confront the problem of revising the century-old OED in a systematic way. It is now considered almost axiomatic that dictionary entries for words of the same category should have a uniform structure and a uniform defining style. The pre-structuralist OED editors felt this imperative less strongly. The lack of consistency in sets of interrelated words is a basic problem now being confronted by the New SOED. It is typified by entries for numerals. No two numeral entries in the OED are the same. They 139 140Lesley S. Burnett were prepared at intervals over a period of more than twentyfive years and passed for publication by three separate editors . Henry Bradley was the first to come upon a clutch of numerals—eight and eighth, eighteen and eighteenth, eighty and eightieth, eleven and eleventh. This was unfortunate. Bradley was still based in London and only working parttime on the OED; and E was the first letter for which he was independently responsible. James Murray thought that the letter should be done again, explaining " . . the Delegates were in such a hurry to get Mr Bradley on, to show that he could (as they thought) work twice as fast as I, that he neither had the practice, the knowledge of the weakness of the Philological Society slips, nor the resources of the Scriptorium to help him."2 The limitations of the material on which Bradley based his first numerals are revealed by comparison with other entries and by simple reflection. One cannot, for instance, take a size eight in shoes or clothes—in fact in the whole of the OED one is only explicitly allowed to take nines, sixes, and twelves (though a quotation for thirteens is also silently allowed under thirteen). Temperatures cannot be up in the eighties—only, on OED evidence, in the nineties, and impHcitly , through a quotation, in the twenties. One can be aged eighty but not eight, eighteen, or eleven—nor explicitly, later in the alphabet, two, four, five, nine, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen , nineteen, or ninety. Betting cannot take place at eight or eleven to one—only at ten to one. Eighteenth is only entered as an adjective—there is no allowance for an eighteenth as a fraction. There is no abstract number eleven, though a number and figure eight had already been included. Only three quotations illustrate six hundred years of the ordinal eightieth, and one of those is a gloss in Palsgrave's FrenchEnglish dictionary. Eightfold and elevenfold are entered undefined in a combination section, although -fold is usually treated in the OED as a suffix forming derivatives rather A Number of Problems for the New SOED141 than as an independent word forming compounds. I could go on. Bradley's circumstances explain some of the shortcomings of his material. The fascicle containing the first numerals was ready for publication in July 1891, at a time when the quotation-collection was still growing. Entries later in the alphabet are inevitably fuller and more up to date than those in E. But parallel omissions in the work of other editors decades later require explanation in terms of more fundamental principles and practices. One major...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 139-147
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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