Webster's Ninth and Historical Lexicography
- Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America
- Dictionary Society of North America
- Number 8, 1986
- pp. 169-174
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WEBSTER'S NINTH ANO HISTORICAL LEXICOGRAPHY FRED R. SHAPIRO Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 1983) represents a notable achievement in the art of the desk dictionary. In one respect this Merriam-Webster word-book differs from all prior desk dictionaries : "Before the first entered sense of each entry for a generic word, the user of this Collegiate will find a date that indicates when the earliest example known to us of the use of that sense was written or printed" (6). The dating of words in Webster's Ninth should be of considerable interest to historical lexicographers because of the manner in which the dates of first use have been compiled. In most instances, of course, the years are taken from the great historical dictionaries (principally the Oxford English Dictionary and its Supplement), which have striven so diligently to trace English words to their earliest appearances in print. Webster's Ninth has also made use of word-lists that have been published in journals such as Notes and Queries. In addition, the front matter notes, "some of the older books in our editorial libraries and in other libraries to which our editors have access have occasionally supplemented the resources of the citation file in supplying dates" (28). The fourth source of the dates in Webster's Ninth is unquestionably the most interesting, because it is a resource that has hitherto been largely inaccessible to historical lexicographers . This is the citation file of Merriam-Webster itself, which, with over 13,000,000 quotations, is the largest collection ever assembled. When the company's own files contain earlier evidence than that recorded by the historical dictionaries, or when the word in question is not listed in any historical dictionary, Webster's Ninth gives the date of the earliest Merriam-Webster attestation. Because of the size and quality of the Merriam files, it is to be expected that in many cases they will contain earlier usages of twentieth-century terms than those given by the historical 169 170 Webster's Ninth and Historical Lexicography dictionaries. Items of general vocabulary, for which a massive reading program is the only means of obtaining early usages, are the most likely to be antedated (as opposed to technical terms, which historical lexicographers can often trace back through focused research to their coinage). From 1968 to 1977 Merriam-Webster assisted the Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary by supplying antedating citations for words "such as those in -Iy, -ment, and -ness, which elude the most diligent search by research assistants" (Burchfield xiv). The Introduction to the first volume of the Supplement notes that "About one-third of the items of this kind submitted to Dr. Gove were antedated from Merriam-Webster's extensive citation files" (Ibid.). This statement suggests the statistical magnitude of the potential antedatings derivable from comparison of these files with published historical evidence. It is noteworthy that the Supplement often cites editions of Merriam's New International Dictionary as first uses, implying in most instances that the citations upon which the NID entry was based would improve the historical record. Study of the dates in Webster's Ninth confirms that they are sometimes earlier than the first uses previously available. The following is a list of a few such instances I came across in browsing through the new dictionary shortly after its publication: OED Supplement Webster's Ninth airport19191907 bookmobile19371926 clobber, v.19441943 clone, v.19591947 computerize19601957 counterproductive19641962 country music19681952 curvaceous19361935 demote18931891 Fred R. Shapiro171 desegregate19531952 desegregation19521951 de-Stalinization19571951 double-talk19381936 elitism19501947 environmentalism19231922 ethnocentric19001890 finger painting19501937 googol19401938 googolplex19401938 hoofer19231918 hootenanny19291925 jeep19411940 jeepers19291927 klutz19681960 linebacker19611949 mah-jongg19221920 major, v.19241913 Medicare19621955 microeconomics19481947 microform19601958 mini, a.19631954 minimax19411918 minor, v.19341926 molecular biology19501938 motion sickness19421941 neoconservative19641955 oddball19481945 off Broadway19531952 okey-doke19321930 oomph19371936 oral history19711955 override, n.19461931 overqualified19681954 oversimplify19341923 phono19481909 photojournalism19441938 pig Latin19371931 premiere, v.19401933 172 Webster's Ninth and Historical Lexicography preppy, n.19701967 pressurize1 9441 940 primatology19411926 prioritize19731966 privatize19691948 quarterback, v.19471944 racquetball19721968 referral19341927 report card19291920 retrain19341918 reverb19611953 saddle shoe19411939 sado-masochism19351922 salesperson19201901 scuba diver19631961 The antedatings supplied by Webster's Ninth are of a novel sort in that dates of attestation are published without exact references. The information...