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  • Etymological Collections of English Words and Provincial Expressions by White Kennett
  • Anatoly Liberman (bio)
Etymological Collections of English Words and Provincial Expressions, by White Kennett. Edited with introduction and commentary by Javier Ruano-García. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2018. Pp. xvii + 471. $195.00. ISBN: 978-0-19-879271-0.

British scholars have been interested in so-called antiquities since at least the Renaissance. They studied ancient "remains" and engaged themselves in the restitution of decayed intelligence, to use the terms current four and three hundred years ago. Gradually, the nascent science of history absorbed those researches, and antiquarians and historians began to represent a single profession. The trend that rose to such prominence in the seventeenth century proved to be long-lived; even the word folklore is a later English coinage (1846). At present, numerous scholars investigate the achievement of the old antiquarians, and Javier Ruano-García is one of them. White Kennett (1660–1728), a clergyman and historian, put together a huge volume of Etymological Collections; it now appears in book form for the first time.

The edition opens with a long and detailed introduction that contains a sketch of Kennett's life and a detailed analysis of the manuscript at hand. In those days, people were not afraid to start great projects and, surprisingly, often succeeded in completing them. Kennett decided to produce a "universal English glossary or a Thesaurus Linguæ Anglicanæ" and set out to collect not only "words obsolete and now of local use, but all other English words of most common acceptation" (p. 41, quoted from folio 63r of Kennett's original ms). A native of Kent, he could partly draw on his firsthand knowledge of the dialect. Other than that, he used all the sources at his disposal, which were rather scanty, especially with regard to the south of England. His most illustrious predecessors were John Ray, the author of many books (still remembered and often consulted), and George Meriton, who in 1684 recorded the dialect of Yorkshire.

In the 1800s, inspired by the development of historical linguistics and etymology, Walter W. Skeat initiated the formation of the English Dialect Society. Multiple collections of rural dialects were edited and published within the framework of that project. The Society's efforts culminated in the production of Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary. The existence of Kennett's Collections was not a secret, but before [End Page 239] Ruano-García no one undertook the task of an analytic edition of this monumental work. His introduction contains the following sections: 1) White Kennett in the context of his time; 2) White Kennett in the context of historical antiquarian scholarship (overview; the recovery of the Anglo-Saxon past: glossaries and dictionaries; chorographies, local, and natural histories; and Kennett's glossary to Parochial Antiquities, 1695); 3) British Library, MS Lansdowne 1033, which is the manuscript edited here (description; compilation and method: headwords, definitions, senses, etymology, sources and citations, and cross-references); 4) the non-dialect material; 5) the dialect material (sources: printed documents and private correspondents; Kennett's varieties of English: dictionary treatment, northern words, midland words, southern words; and Scottish, Welsh, and Irish words); 6) the legacy of Kennett's dialect words; and 7) notes on the editorial policy.

Kennett called his work Etymologicon Anglicanum because, in his view and in the view of his contemporaries, etymology was expected to reveal not only the origin of words but also illuminate the deepest recesses of history. In a way, their ambitions deserve respect: if we could reconstruct the impulse behind the creation of the oldest words, we would indeed be able to go a long way toward the "restitution of decayed intelligence." But theirs was a premature attack: scientific etymology came into existence only with the development of the comparative method. Yet Kennett and several of his predecessors knew Gothic, Old Norse, and some Dutch and often succeeded in stringing together cognates from those languages.

The entry from Etymologicon for the headword Snape or Sneap exemplifies the thorough nature of the editor's work. The abbreviations are self-explanatory.

to Snape or Sneap. To check, as children easily Snaped, or sneap'd. i.e...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 239-241
Launched on MUSE
2019-12-14
Open Access
No
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