A creative and Critical Undertaking by a Lexicographical Hobbyist”


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"Dashing the Anemoi:

A Creative and Critical Undertaking by a Lexicographical Hobbyist”

ANNA MATSEN

A Thesis

Submitted to the Graduate Faculty

in partial fulfillment

of the

Requirements of the Degree

Master of Arts in English

Belmont University

2011

Approved:

_____________________________________________ Date______________________

Mentor

_____________________________________________ Date______________________

Reader

_____________________________________________ Date______________________

Reader

Table of Contents

Section I: Lexicography According to Lexicographers

Introduction ..................................................................................................................... 4

Historical Background .................................................................................................... 5

A Brief History of Early Lexicography ..................................................................... 5

Samuel Johnson ......................................................................................................... 7

Noah Webster ............................................................................................................ 11

The OED .................................................................................................................. 15

Merriam-Webster's Third International ................................................................... 16

Online Lexicographers ................................................................................................. 19

Douglas Harper of “Etymonline” ............................................................................ 20

Mike Fischer of “Worthless Word for the Day” ..................................................... 26

Chris Bird of the “Grandiloquent Dictionary” ........................................................ 30

Stephen Chrisomalis of the “Phrontistery” ............................................................. 35

Final Thoughts Regarding Online Lexicographers ................................................. 38

My Lexicon .................................................................................................................... 39

Past and Present Goals for “Dashing the Anemoi” ................................................. 40

Design, Audience, and Usage .................................................................................. 41

Word Choice and Bias ............................................................................................. 42

Methods, Forms, and Standards ............................................................................... 44

“Dashing the Anemoi” as an Online Resource ........................................................ 47

Names, Surprises, and Practical Matters .................................................................. 48

A Few Words on Favorites ....................................................................................... 49

Being Unique Amidst Other Word Resource Creators, Past and Present ................ 50

Similarities With Dictionary Authors, Past and Present .......................................... 52

Conclusion ............................................................................................................... 53

Bibliography .................................................................................................................. 54



Section II: “Dashing the Anemoi” – The Lexicon

Introduction from Home Page ..................................................................................... 57

Adverbs .......................................................................................................................... 58

Verbs ……...................................................................................................................... 61

Adjectives ...................................................................................................................... 72

Nouns ............................................................................................................................. 93

Other ............................................................................................................................ 170

Section I:

Lexicography According to Lexicographers

Introduction

Everybody likes being proven right, whether over a question regarding a fine point of law or a favorite athlete's statistics; and most everybody loves “proving correct” his or her understanding of a word's meaning, spelling or origin by looking it up in a dictionary. Alas, when it comes to the meaning of a word, a dictionary gives only the appearance of settling the matter, and that only because many dictionary users misunderstand what a dictionary is designed to do and how it was designed to do it.
Most people, including many in academia who take for granted that they know what a dictionary is for, mistakenly believe that a dictionary dictates what a word is or is not permitted to mean, and that a dictionary writer who professes to be anything less than an authoritative judge of meaning and style is shirking his or her lexicographical duties. There even remain some misguided folk who believe those in the word-defining business have a responsibility to prevent the “corruption” of the language – as though alleged problematic speakers consult dictionaries for proper usage in the first place. Though perhaps the desire is simply to have an authoritative text which can be appealed to show linguistic rubes the error of their ways.
Frequently, those who consult a dictionary ascribe to it an authority greater than it can claim because they are unaware how subjective (and sometimes even mistaken) a given definition can be (Weekley 9). Their utter faith in the dictionary, often any dictionary, can have the same uncritical certainty as a toddler feels about a parent. Though such trust might never be purposefully betrayed, it is nevertheless an attitude both naïve and precarious. Knowing something of the history and purpose of dictionary writing may, to some extent, remedy this excessive trust and place the role of lexicographer into proper context. Additionally, as a self-proclaimed lexicographer, I believe it is important to grapple with how much “authority” a dictionary can have (particularly one written by an amateur).
Historical Background
A Brief History of Early Lexicography

English dictionary-making began not due to a desire to compile the language, fix the meaning of words, or even fix the spelling of words. There was, furthermore, no presumption that the speakers of a language needed an authority to tell them how to speak it correctly. The expectation that a dictionary should authoritatively establish right and wrong usage is a convention which evolved over time – though the modern descriptive movement (which argues that dictionaries exist to describe how words have been used) returns lexicography to its historical foundations more than the average prescriptivist might admit (prescriptivists argue that dictionaries exist to provide instruction or advice about how words should be used).

The very first defining texts were word-to-word glossaries created to help the educated class understand Latin – the international language of the Old English and Middle English periods. The earliest of these texts were glosses translating especially hard Latin terms into more familiar Latin. The Leiden and Erfurt Glosses, which contain native English equivalents for difficult Latin terms, are some of the earliest examples of written English in existence (Whitehall 3). Such works contained equivalences or synonyms, not the meanings or descriptions associated with modern dictionary entries.

Around 1400, Latin-English glossarium began to appear. The Promptorium Parvulorum sive Clericorum, printed by the fabulously named Wynkyn de Worde in 1499, was a redaction of the first glossarium, the Medulla Grammatica, which had been written (but never printed) around 1400. Significantly, this version of the Medulla placed the English term first and its Latin equivalent second (Whitehall 3-4). What inspired the existence of such texts, therefore, was commercial interest in an academic product: namely, English-speaking academics needed a resource which explained Latin words and phrases and which provided the Latin equivalents for familiar English phrasings.
It might be guessed that when Latin broke down as the prime International language, that then focus would naturally shift to the native tongue – but this was not to be. The rapid development of international trade during and after the Renaissance led to a fast-rising demand for foreign-language dictionaries in French, Italian, and Spanish (Whitehall 4). Again, social needs defined why and in what form defining texts were written. Foreign-language dictionaries are, of course, by their very nature both descriptivist (describing how words have been used) and prescriptivist (advising how words should be used). It is impossible to provide a useful resource of this sort unless it both explains how people speak and instructs the reader in the most culturally and linguistically appropriate way to be understood.
Due to the respect afforded Latin during the late 16th century, scholars preferring Latin and Greek terms and grammar over English terms and grammar invented many difficult “inkhorn” terms from Greek and Latin roots. Those unfamiliar with either of these languages needed help understanding such newfangled neologisms, and so the “Dictionary of Hard Words” rose in prominence during the 17th century (Whitehall 4-5).
In 1604, the schoolmaster Robert Cawdrey wrote the first text designed expressly for listing and defining English words for English-speaking people: A Table Alphabeticall (“conteyning and teaching the true writing, and understanding of hard usuall English wordes, borrowed from the Hebrew, Greeke, Latine, or French. &c.”). Its stated goal suggests a dual purpose of informing and instructing: to teach true writing is to provide linguistic guidance, but to convey understanding (which is necessary before any advice can be useful) is the aspiration of a descriptivist.
Other lexicographers extended the tradition of explaining “hard words” for the benefit of the literate public; examples included Thomas Blount’s Glossographia (1656) and Nathan Bailey’s Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1721). In 1730, Bailey (and others) produced the Dictionarium Britannicum, with about 48,000 entries, which became the basis for Samuel Johnson's famed two-volume Dictionary, published in 1755 (Pyles 6). There were, however, no attempts yet made to make a comprehensive list of English word meanings, and there wouldn't be until national jealousy of certain French and Italian endeavors (Bate 240-1) prompted the humble polymath mentioned above to attempt the feat. The result of his efforts would make the name Johnson synonymous with the word dictionary for the next hundred years.
Samuel Johnson

If it is fair to judge a man by the preface to his dictionary, then Johnson was a great deal more insightful than even his devotees recognize. Ironically, their mistake is to applaud his insight while ignoring his humility: they make him far more authoritative than he ever claimed to be.

As mentioned in the introduction, everybody loves having an authority to appeal to in order to settle their disputes; Johnson, however, recognized that when it comes to defining words, it's difficult to pin down an exact meaning and impossible to restrict a word solely to that meaning. France and Italy of the 1700's had already formed academies to rule on matters grammatical and linguistic, yet both of their languages continued to evolve. How presumptuous would it then be for any man to claim he could freeze the evolution of English? Johnson himself warned, with eloquence and foresight, against those who might love his work excessively:

Those who have been persuaded to think well of my design, will require that it should fix our language, and put a stop to ... alterations ... With this consequence I will confess that I flattered myself for a while; but now begin to fear that I have indulged expectation which neither reason nor experience can justify. … [T]he lexicographer [may] be derided, who being able to produce no example of a nation that has preserved their words and phrases from mutability, shall imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language. (Johnson “Preface”)

In other words, the fact that preservers of a language might wish their tongue would remain unchanged from their era – never acquiring new or foreign words, never losing the meanings of old – does not mean it's possible (or desirable) to prevent all linguistic innovation. Later in his preface, Johnson explicitly makes the point that living languages must change: The language most likely to continue long without alteration, would be that of a nation raised ... but a little above barbarity, secluded from strangers, and totally employed in procuring the conveniences of life … Those who have much leisure to think, will always be enlarging the stock of ideas, and every increase of knowledge, whether real or fancied, will produce new words, or combinations of words. … as any custom is disused, the words that expressed it must perish with it; as any opinion grows popular, it will innovate speech in the same proportion as it alters practice. (Johnson “Preface”) This did not mean, of course, he was willing to wash his hands of all attempts to slow the corruption of English or to ignore gross confusion of its vocabulary: “It remains that we retard what we cannot repel, that we palliate what we cannot cure. Life may be lengthened by care, though death cannot be ultimately defeated” (Johnson “Preface”). And, of course, English is far from simple, logical, or otherwise ideally structured. Everyone from the most sophisticated writer to the most elementary speaker of English very sensibly may wish that it was simpler in structure and more systematic in spelling – especially in Johnson’s time, when English spelling had not yet been entirely standardized. When Johnson began his lexicographical work, he'd naturally had some aspirations of ordering what was messy and regularizing what seemed without form. Indeed, he found English on the whole “copious without order, and energetick without rules.” Everywhere he turned, it seemed, “there was perplexity to be disentangled, and confusion to be regulated” (Johnson “Preface”). To fulfill the noble aspiration of reforming English spelling, he employed a simple yet flexible method: he took into account derivation (“entire is chosen rather than intire, because it passed to us not from the Latin integer, but from the French entier”), custom (“I write, in compliance with a numberless majority, convey and inveigh, deceit and receipt, fancy and phantom”), and practicality (“Some combinations of letters having the same power are used indifferently without any discoverable reason of choice, as in choak, choke; soap, sope; … which I have sometimes inserted twice, that those who search for them under either form, may not search in vain.”). Yet even employing this very sensible method, Johnson's respect for the work which he conducted inspired in him humility for the immense and intricate nature of the task before him. He was, perhaps, his most exacting critic: “the orthography [spelling] which I recommend is still controvertible, the etymology which I adopt is uncertain, and perhaps frequently erroneous; the explanations are sometimes too much contracted, and sometimes too much diffused” (Johnson “Preface”). Nevertheless, Johnson's Dictionary was to become the definitive defining text for a hundred years after its publication. He revised Bailey's crude etymologies (an etymology is the history of a word's origin and usage), made a systematic use of illustrative quotations, fixed the spelling of many disputed words, and displayed the English vocabulary much more fully than had ever before been attempted. The text was so revered that it continued in common use through 1900, and, in 1880, Parliament threw out a proposed bill because a word in it was not in Johnson's Dictionary (Whitehall 5-6). The respect which Johnson's Dictionary has long been afforded is, I believe, due to his idealistic goals, pragmatic methods, diligent patience, and experience-based reservations regarding compiling and writing his work. First, why did he attempt an English dictionary? As mentioned above, at the time France and Italy had created academies to record, define, and limit their languages. English did not yet have a comprehensive lexicographical work of its own, so he proposed that he might provide such a resource. According to his preface, he initially also hoped to achieve certain personal and social goals through careful selection of illustrative quotations. He desired that each quotation “be useful to some other end than the illustration of a word” (Johnson “Preface”). His work would not only define terms, but put them into cultural context and foster appreciation for fine expressions. Imagine if, when looking up a term in a dictionary, the reader could learn scientific principles, historical facts, chemical processes, and poetical descriptions. Not only would Johnson have enhanced the ability of the public to educate themselves (according to his own highly refined taste), but he'd also have the pleasure of reading the best English writing across any number of disciplines in the process. What joy would be his! And what could be more useful, both for personal and for social development! Alas, Johnson “soon discovered that the bulk of [his] volumes would fright away the student, and was forced to depart from [his] scheme of including all that was pleasing or useful in English literature, and reduce [his] transcripts very often to clusters of words, in which scarcely any meaning is retained” (Johnson “Preface”). His wildest aspirations were thus tamed by reality: a hard copy book including not only a comprehensive understanding of English terminology, but also a choice selection of the finest English writing would overwhelm any reader, let alone any individual writer. Physically carrying it would have been a burden, never mind the financial burden of purchasing such a detailed tome. Additionally, there were time constraints to consider (taking responsibility for so ponderous a project would have taken lifetimes) and, unfortunately, sometimes the smoothest writing is not the most illustrative of meaning. If example sentences were to increase understanding, they had to be restricted to those usages which all but defined the word itself through their context (“It is not sufficient that a word is found, unless it be so combined as that its meaning is apparently determined by the tract and tenour of the sentence.” – Johnson, “Preface”). When it became obvious he needed to place matter above style, he began taking examples “from writers who were never mentioned as masters of elegance or models of stile; but words must be sought where they are used; and in what pages, eminent for purity, can terms of manufacture or agriculture be found” (Johnson “Preface”)? In other words, pragmatic reverence for the purpose of his dictionary compelled him to reconsider his choice of quotations – just one step of several enabling him to create a volume both useful and affordable for the common Englishman. As described in his “Preface,” collecting the words to be compiled was sobering drudgery. He consulted the dictionaries already in existence for material, but found them wholly deficient. To fill in the gaps they left, he read key texts of English literature and considered the living speech of his experience, but recognized that this meant depending on chance and his own idiosyncratic interests and activities. Despite the fact that his methods could be more intuitive than systematic, he did find his word search to be “either skilful or lucky; for I have much augmented the vocabulary” (Johnson “Preface”). Due to the daunting number of English words to be defined, he eventually created several restrictions for himself: words based upon proper names – such as Arian, Calvinist, and Benedictine – were omitted. Words with regular and commonly understood word endings (such as the -ish in greenish) “were less diligently sought, and sometimes have been omitted” (Johnson “Preface”). Although he consulted specialized resources to obtain scientific, technical, and artistic terminology, he regretted that “many terms of art and manufacture are omitted” because, he says, “I could not visit the caverns to learn the miner's language, nor take a voyage to perfect my skill in the dialect of navigation,” and so on (Johnson “Preface”). He was also wary of admitting words found only in dictionaries, though if he wasn't sure whether or not they could be found in any other written text, he included them just in case they may be in some writing he simply had not read. Because he considered the period between the works of Sir Philip Sidney (of the late 1500s) and the Restoration of Charles II (in 1660) to be the most elevated form of English, those events bookended the time period from which he selected his words, word meanings, and example sentences. He imposed this restriction on himself “lest my zeal for antiquity might drive me into times too remote, and croud my book with words now no longer understood” (Johnson “Preface”). Yet his practicality was tempered by his personality: Johnson included obsolete words when they were found in the writings of notable authors, or when he deemed them of such force or beauty that he believed they deserved revival. Also, if he couldn't find a proper citation for a word, he might still include it if he considered the word useful. The only time he appears overtly prescriptive (to use the modern term) in his word choice is when he disparages the intrusion of foreign words. “The words which our authours have introduced by their knowledge of foreign languages, or ignorance of their own ... I have registred as they occurred, though commonly only to … warn others against the folly of naturalizing useless foreigners to the injury of the natives” (Johnson “Preface”). Later, he explains further that foreign words should only be introduced into English speech and writing when there is no pre-existing English word to represent the same idea. The most difficult step in creating a dictionary, of course, is the actual process of defining words. The difficulties Johnson lists include that many words do not have exact synonyms, that the simplest ideas cannot be described in simpler terms, and that sometimes the meaning of a word is inexact or disputable. Finally (and here his humility is again demonstrated), Johnson professes, “Some words there are which I cannot explain, because I do not understand them ... I may surely, without shame, leave some obscurities to happier industry, or future information” (“Preface”). Practical concerns were also influential in his efforts to define English words. Initially, he had hoped to consult various authoritative resources. Due to the fact that he was but one man assisted by six poor, part-time amanuenses (people whose job is to transcribe or copy others' words) (Bate 243), such a standard would have extended his work to more than a lifetime of effort. And so, he began to depend more and more exclusively on what experience had taught him: I then contracted my design, determining to confide in myself, and no longer to solicit auxiliaries, which produced more incumbrance than assistance: by this I obtained at least one advantage, that I set limits to my work, which would in time be ended, though not completed. (Johnson “Preface”) Thankfully, 173 years later (New “World's Greatest”), the creation of the OED would come much closer to fulfilling Johnson's original ideals, regarding both example sentences and authoritativeness of word usage. That work, of course, shall be discussed in this paper after Noah Webster's contribution to lexicography is evaluated. Perhaps the most important passage of Johnson's “Preface” for modern lexicographers and their critics to note – one which I will refer back to later in this paper – is his moderate stance regarding whether he should be expected to resolve the meaning of any word under dispute: Most men think indistinctly, and therefore cannot speak with exactness; and consequently some examples might be indifferently put to either signification: this uncertainty is not to be imputed to me, who do not form, but register the language; who do not teach men how they should think, but relate how they have hitherto expressed their thoughts. (Johnson “Preface”) In other words, his primary goal was not to advise how words should be used by to describe how they have been used. Therefore, if the anachronistic terminology can be forgiven, this places Johnson squarely in the descriptive, rather than prescriptive, camp of lexicography. The same would not be true of his eventual American counterpart, Noah Webster.
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