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Thursday, 31 January 2013
Home arrow Role of quotations arrow OED1 source collection arrow Early progress
Initial aims
In his seminal two lectures of November 1857, Trench had said, ‘If…we count it worth while to have all words, we can only have them by reading all books; this is the price we must be content to pay’ (Trench 1857: 69). Work on the Dictionary began accordingly with the assumption that all words from all printed (or written) sources were to be included. The Philological Society's Proposal stated, unequivocally:
The first requirement of every lexicon is, that it should contain every word in the literature of the language it professes to illustrate. We entirely repudiate the theory, which converts the lexicographer into an arbiter of style, and leaves it in his discretion to accept or reject words according to his private notion of their elegance or inelegance. (p. 2)
But this was an unattainable ideal. It would have been impossible to read all available sources, and it was therefore impossible to be sure of including all words. Moreover, many of the words which were known to the lexicographers turned out to be unsuitable for inclusion: some because they were too specialized or too eccentric, some because they were obscene, some because they were insufficiently attested, some because there was no room. The gradual erosion of the ideal of inclusiveness - and the consequent shift from descriptiveness to, in effect, prescriptiveness, since every decision to exclude a word is a departure from the purist ideal of descriptive lexicography so confidently stated by Trench and the others - is a fascinating feature of the early stages of the Dictionary.
Last Updated ( Sunday, 20 May 2007 )
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