Mitford McLeod Mathews: 1891-1985
- Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America
- Dictionary Society of North America
- Number 8, 1986
- pp. 251-256
- Additional Information
MITFORD McLEOD MATHEWS 1891-1985 On February 14, 1985, Mitford McLeod Mathews, a premier American lexicographer, died in Chicago, two days after his ninety-fourth birthday. He was the editor of A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles (1951, 1956), Assistant Editor of the Dictionary of American English (1944), and author of books and articles on lexicography. At the celebration of the completion of the OED Supplement at the Library of Congress in May 1986, R. W. Burchfield, Editor of the Supplement, referred to the DA and the DAE as "jewels in the crown of American lexicography" (along with DARE and Webster's Third). Mathews was born and attended public schools in Jackson, Alabama, a small rural town, and was graduated in 1915 from Southern University, a little Methodist college with a total enrollment in that year of seventy-nine and a faculty of seven. In 1915-1916 he taught English at Scarrett-Morrisville College in Missouri, and in 1916-1917 he was a teaching fellow at the University of Alabama, receiving an M.A., in English. In 1917 he enlisted in the U. S. Naval Reserve, and he earned ensign rank at Annapolis. From 1919 to 1925 he was a high-school teacher and principal at Moundville, Alabama, and Talladega, Alabama, teaching English and Latin. In 1926-1931 Mathews was an instructor in English at the University of Chicago, where he took Sir William Craigie's course in lexicography and became a research assistant on the staff of the Dictionary of American English. In 1927 Sir William sent him to Oxford to extract American evidence from the OED citation files, and he assisted Sir William in the preparation of the OED Supplement of 1933. He spent 1931 to 1934 at Harvard, receiving an M.A. in 1934 and a Ph.D. in 1936, writing a dissertation, supervised by G. L. Kittredge, on "Notes and Comments Made by British Travelers and Observers upon American English." In 1936 Mathews was made Assistant Editor of the DAE, holding this title throughout while other assistant editors came 251 252Mitford McLeod Mathews and went. He began first-editing of entries in the middle of the Bs when Craigie delegated this duty to assistant editors and began doing his own editing in galley proof, as did co-editor Hulbert. Mathews undoubtedly prepared more entries than any other member of the staff. When the DAE was completed in 1944, Mathews was appointed to head a dictionary department of the University of Chicago Press, which was publishing Carl D. Buck's Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal IndoEuropean Languages, The University of Chicago Spanish Dictionary, The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, and A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue. In 1951 he was appointed Professorial Lecturer in the Department of Linguistics. He retired from both positions in 1956. Before the DAE was published Mathews was thinking about another historical dictionary of American English, which would include only words and meanings that had originated in the United States and words and senses that had first come into the language after 1900, unlike the DAE, which included many words that had been important in the development of the country but were not indigenous. He discussed his proposal with Sir William Craigie, Henry L. Mencken, G. L. Kittredge, Kemp Malone, and Rollin D. Hemens, manager of the publication department of the Press. All of them encouraged him, and the Press, happy with the DAE, agreed to subsidize and publish A Dictionary of Americanisms. In an English Institute Essay in 1947 he described, with characteristic humor, his proposed remedies of the shortcomings (in his view) of the DAE. The DA was completed in August, 1950, and published in 1951. Throughout his career Mathews worked after office hours in his study at home, writing and revising books and articles and advising dictionary publishers. His works include The Beginnings of American English (1931, 1963), A Survey of English Dictionaries (1933, 1966), Some Sources of Southernisms (1948, 1974), Words: How to Know Them Mitford McLeod Mathews253 (1956), Americanisms (an abridgement of the DA, 1966), Teaching to Read: Historically Considered (1966), American Words (1959, with Japanese editions...