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Celebrating the Middle English Dictionary (Read at the meeting of the Society at Ann Arbor on May 6, 2001 ) E E. G. Stanley "t is a great honor to be invited to honor with you the Middle ^English Dictionary (MED).1 When I was asked, I thought it must be because I am just about the only surviving original subscriber; but looking around this room I see colleagues, young and old, and I do not know which of the old, if any, are original subscribers. Let all of us together congratulate the MED on having been brought happily to conclusion; let us congratulate Bob Lewis on having achieved the completion ; and let us surviving original subscribers congratulate ourselves that we were wise enough, though young then, to have been in at the beginning, and that half a century later we are still around to celebrate the end of one of the great lexicographical ventures of the last eighty years. On such a formal occasion you will not wish me to be autobiographical , yet I cannot help mentioning, if only in passing, my financial circumstances of 1951, and how I trembled lest bankruptcy should stare me in the face. In my first year as Assistant Lecturer in Birmingham University I was earning £425 per annum, a sum they generously increased to £450 because I was a late starter, nearly twenty-eight years old. MED was inviting subscribers at 17s for each part, instead of a guinea to non-subscribers, and for each year two parts at least were promised, threatened as it seemed to me. At the same time, the Old High German dictionary, edited by 1I am grateful to the British Academy and to the University of Oxford for contributing towards my expenses incurred in traveling to Ann Arbor to attend the meeting. Dictionaries:Journal ofthe Dictionary Society ofNorth America 23 (2002) 24E. G. Stanley Elisabeth Karg-Gasterstädt and Theodor Frings were inviting subscriptions , and their first fascicle too came out in 1952, and I became a subscriber of that too at about 9s a fascicle, and they too threatened to bring out two or more fascicles a year. Collecting material for Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch had begun some eighty years earlier under Elias von Steinmeyer, and I feared that they would now proceed with giant-strides. Their beautifully printed dictionary is now within reach of the end of volume IV, G-J. In the early 1950s, most of those I spoke to about MED thought the way it was printed resulted in an ugly dictionary. A reviewer of those days, Randolph Quirk (now Lord Quirk of Bloomsbury) , controverted that adverse criticism (1954, 486): [Hans Kurath] took the enterprising decision to produce the Dictionary by a photolithoprint process, and as a result the typing (on two electric machines) and proof-correcting are done by members of his own staff under his supervision, and it is only the photography, reduction and litho-printing are performed outside. This procedure, giving an adequately readable page for a reference work at about two-fifth the cost of letter -press printing, has enabled Kurath to document each word fully and to plan an eight-thousand-page-dictionary at a reasonable price. It was a tool for understanding Middle English texts, cheap enough for assistant lecturers, and in time, when E and F (seven parts produced by 1955) were succeeded by A, B, C, and D, and then forward from G on, an increasingly useful tool as it proceeded along the alphabet, useful because of its excellent coverage, fuller for Middle English than that of The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), whose slips with Middle English quotations, including those not used in OED as printed, had been sent over to the incipient MED at a time when it was little more than a gleam in the eyes of Clark S. Northup, who first presided over the project . Randolph Quirk's praise of Kurath included a reference to electric typewriters, two of them. I had seen such marvels in the Science Museum in South Kensington even before the Second World War, but I knew of no scholarly enterprise technologically advanced enough to use them. The editors described the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 23-47
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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