Lost for Words: The Hidden History of the Oxford English Dictionary

Lost for Words: The Hidden History of the Oxford English Dictionary

by Lynda Mugglestone
     
 

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) holds a cherished position in English literary culture. The story behind the creation of what is indisputably the greatest dictionary in the language has become a popular fascination. This book looks at the history of the great first edition of 1928, and at the men (and occasionally women) who distilled words and

Overview

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) holds a cherished position in English literary culture. The story behind the creation of what is indisputably the greatest dictionary in the language has become a popular fascination. This book looks at the history of the great first edition of 1928, and at the men (and occasionally women) who distilled words and usages from centuries of English writing and “through an act of intellectual alchemy captured the spirit of a civilization.”
The task of the dictionary was to bear full and impartial witness to the language it recorded. But behind the immaculate typography of the finished text, the proofs tell a very different story. This vast archive, unexamined until now, reveals the arguments and controversies over meanings, definitions, and pronunciation, and which words and senses were acceptable—and which were not.
Lost for Words examines the hidden history by which the great dictionary came into being, tracing—through letters and archives—the personal battles involved in charting a constantly changing language. Then as now, lexicographers reveal themselves vulnerable to the prejudices of their own linguistic preferences and to the influence of contemporary social history.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“The OED was one of the great creative enterprises of Victorian England. It is a real tour-de-force to make the words in the dictionary tell their own story.” —Nicolas Barker

Bloomsbury Review

“Erudite, thoroughly annotated, and thrilling for scholars, academics, and wordsmiths. . . . a worthy addition to any university, public, or personal library.”

Library Journal
Relying in part on newly discovered evidence from the Bodlein Library's Murray Papers and OED Archives, Mugglestone (English, Pembroke Coll., Oxford; Talking Proper: The Rise of Accent as Social Symbol) gives us an up-to-date account of the making of the venerable Oxford English Dictionary and details its mythic reputation as a complete and unbiased inventory of English. Mugglestone demonstrates a sharp distinction between the ideal concept of the OED espoused by editor James A.H. Murray and others and the reality of the dictionary as published. Murray's marked-up proofs of the first edition, which show countless instances of judgment, selectivity, and bias, refute the stated goal of presenting the entire English word stock free of any prejudice. Through archival evidence Mugglestone illuminates the thousands of decisions regarding inclusion/exclusion, labeling, etymology, definitions, social and political biases, and limitations of money, space, and time that went into making the OED the extraordinary but still less than ideal reference imagined. Along the way, she offers a procedurally detailed history of the dictionary (preferable to that of K.M. Murray'sCaught in the Web of Words, also published by Yale). Highly recommended for larger public and academic libraries.-Paul D'Alessandro, Portland P.L., ME Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300106992
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
04/10/2005
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

Meet the Author

Lynda Mugglestone is fellow in English at Pembroke College, Oxford. She is the author of Talking Proper: The Rise of Accent of Social Symbol (2nd ed, 2003), and has published widely on nineteenth-century language and literature. She broadcasts regularly in the UK.

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