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GOVE'S RATIONALE FOR ILLUSTRATIVE QUOTATIONS IN WEBSTER'S THIRD NEW INTERNATIONAL HERBERT C. MORTON Attacks on illustrative quotations in Webster's Third New International were directed more often at the choice of authors than at what was said. No one asked seriously why quotations were used or whether the ones in W3 fulfilled their function. There were derisive comments about the appropriateness of quoting Ethel Merman—"two shows a day drain a girl"—or Willie Mays—"hit too many homers and people start puffing you up." Hostile critics expressed indignation or outrage at the citation of nonliterary sources generally, suggesting that any dictionary that quoted Art Linkletter and the Trans-World Airlines timetable, or authors such as Mickey Spillane, was not the place to turn for guidance on the meaning of words and usage in the English language. Wilson Follett said with some asperity that there could not be 14,000 authors who were worth quoting. Dwight Macdonald thought that W3 had gone too far in giving prominence to modern authors at the expense of great authors of the past. But no one argued that Ethel Merman's words failed to illustrate precisely and memorably the use of drain in the sense of 'exhaust'. And from the perspective of Philip B. Gove, editor-in-chief, it was the usefulness of a quotation in "clarifying meaning" that mattered, not its source or any other purpose. Gove discussed his guidelines at a roundtable at Georgetown University in 1961, and they can be better 153 154Herbert C. Morton understood if they are examined in context of the early development of Gove's lexicographical views. Gove, Johnson, and the OED Gove had a special interest in illustrative quotations dating back to his early research on Samuel Johnson and eighteenth -century English literature. His first published article, written in 1939 when he was at Oxford on a year's fellowship, dealt with the serialization of the Johnson and Scott-Bailey dictionaries. a But it was Johnson's use of illustrative quotations that had first captured Gove's interest. In the mid1930s , when he was teaching freshman English at New York University, Gove obtained funds from the WPA to copy the quotations on 3 ? 5 file cards, which would make them easy to assemble and examine. He hired students to do the work, according to carefully specified instructions. About 100,000 quotations were collected—written on the blank side of 3 ? 5 cards discarded by the university and salvaged, in keeping with the frugality of the times. Before the job was completed the money ran out. For twenty years, and despite several moves during his service in the Navy during World War II, Gove clung to the idea of continuing the work. He later recalled, with characteristic attention to detail, that the cards had been stored in seven different places and had been repacked several times, first in the thousand-card boxes in which new cards were sold, then in shoe boxes, and finally in tin boxes, which Gove took to his farm near Springfield when he went to work for Merriam-Webster in 1946. Finally he arranged in 1955 to give them to Yale University. 2 Johnson's quotations, as Gove learned, were intended to achieve several purposes—to illustrate the meaning of words in context, to establish that a word had been used by a reputable authority, to display how words were used by the best Gove's Rationale for Illustrative Quotations155 authors, to show the language as it was at an earlier era before it was contaminated by foreign influences, and to impart useful lessons and moral instruction. Since Johnson himself selected the authors and passages to be quoted, he could be reasonably consistent in applying his criteria and yet flexible in selecting a quotation primarily for one purpose while incidentally illustrating others. The choice of the source to quote was clearly of high importance. As he wrote in the Preface to the dictionary, "If the language of theology were extracted from Hooker and the translation of the Bible; the terms of natural knowledge from Bacon; the phrases of policy , war, and navigation from Raleigh; the dialect of poetry from Spenser and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 153-164
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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