An Appeal to American Readers
- Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America
- Dictionary Society of North America
- Number 8, 1986
- pp. 232-235
- Additional Information
AN APPEAL TO AMERICAN READERS The Historical Dictionary of the English language which the Philological Society has had in hand for more than twenty years is at last to be published. The Delegates of the Clarendon Press, in the University of Oxford, have assumed the entire financial responsibility of the publication. Dr. Murray, the President of the Society, has undertaken to edit it with a corps of sub-editors. A first part of four hundred pages, containing the letter A, is to be ready in 1882, and the rest to follow in the course of ten years, if possible. The raw material for the work consists of quotations illustrating the use of all the English words by all writers of all ages, and in all senses. These are written according to a uniform plan, each on a slip of paper of the size of half a sheet of note-paper. An appeal was made in January, 1859, to the English and American public to assist in making these quotations. Dr. Murray finds some two tons' weight of slips accumulated. In the earliest period, where the books are few, the work is fairly done or promised, but in the later centuries many books remain untouched. A new "Appeal" is now issued for help. A thousand readers are asked for to complete the reading, and send in the slips within the next three years. For American readers American books are left. Hardly any have been touched. Dr. Murray has also, with generous confidence in American scholars, left them the unfinished books of the eighteenth century. At least four or five hundred American readers are needed in order to accomplish thoroughly so soon what is thus allotted to them. Any one can help, especially with modem books. Dr. Murray's pupils have supplied him with five thousand good quotations during the past month. But of course persons who have access to original editions of authors of the eighteenth century, and who have some scholastic preparation for the work, must do the most important part of it. A few specimens of the slips will give a clear idea of the nature of the reader's work. The earliest slip for any word should give its first appearance in English literature. Thus, the earliest slip yet turned up for the word castle is found to read as follows: 232 To Make Extracts for the NED233 Castle, sb. obsolete. A village. 1000. Cott. Gosp., Matt xxi 2. Farath on thaet castel. This indicates that the word first appears in the year 1000, in the Cottonian Gospels, in Matthew xxi. 2, with the spelling castel, and meaning a village. American readers will not get first slips for words of that age; but let them not despair— many words are younger. For arrow-root the earliest slip yet made is as follows: Arrow-root, sb. Food prepared from Maranta starch. 1848. Thackeray. Vanity Fair (ed. 1853), ch. xxxix., p. 340. They smooth pillows; and make Arrow-root. This, it seems, appeared originally in 1 848, but was read in an edition of 1853. The first appearance of affinition is as follows: Affinition, sb. 1879 w. D. howells, The Lady of the Aroostook, ch. xiv., p. 165. By some infinitely subtle and unconscious affinition she relaxed toward him. A reader of Bancroft's 'History' noted 2,000 words suspected of there making their first appearance. But it is not only first appearances that are wanted. Readers are requested to make a quotation for every word that strikes them as "rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar, or used in a peculiar way." Agrin, adv. 1879. w. D. howells, The Lady of the Aroostook, ch. viii., p. 80. Half the ship's company . . . were there silently agrin. Ethnic, adj.... 1879. w. D. howells, The Lady ofAroostook, ch. vin., p. 81. The cook's respect having been won back through his ethnic susceptibility to silver. 234An Appeal to American Readers Phrases and proverbs are to be carefully quoted: Bacon, sb. To save one's bacon. 1698. milton. Defens. Populi, trans., p. 561. He was resolved to take a course like the soldier in Terence, to save his Bacon. Form, sb. To be...