Tag: lexicography

What is a lexicographer?

OED

Samuel Johnson, in his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, famously defined a lexicographer as ‘A writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge’. He also said, in the entry for dull, that ‘To make dictionaries is dull work’. Of course, his tongue was firmly in his cheek, noted wit that he was (he might also […]

From ‘trousers’ to ‘Tories': unexpected Irish words in English

Unexpected Irish words in English

Most English speakers would not be surprised to hear that words like banshee or shamrock have their origins in Irish, the Celtic language (also known as Gaelic) which is still spoken in the parts of Ireland known as the Gaeltacht. After all, most recognizable Irish words encountered in English have obvious connections to Ireland, like […]

Word trends: digital

Digital

The word digital is one which has become very much associated with the modern world. However, it is not a modern word. The OED’s entry for digital actually contains evidence for the word as far back as the 15th century with the sense, ‘designating a whole number less than ten’. Another early sense referred to […]

Lights, camera, lexicon: the language of films in the OED

Film Projector

Film, that great popular art form of the twentieth century, is a valuable window on the evolving English language, as well as a catalyst of its evolution. Film scripts form an important element of the Oxford English Dictionary’s reading programme, and the number of citations from films in the revised OED multiplies with each quarterly […]

Confessions of a pedant

Pedantry

We all know what a taxi is There are two big problems about working for a dictionary. The first is that everyone assumes you know the meaning of every word, which is setting the bar rather high. There are about 600,000 words and senses in the OED. Any one of them could crop up at […]

A journey through spin

A journey through spin

Spin is one of those words which could perhaps now do with a bit of ‘spin’ in its own right. From its beginnings in the idea of honest labour and toil (in terms of etymology, spin descends from the spinning of fabric or thread), it has come to suggest the twisting of words rather than […]

prescriptive or descriptive

To describe or prescribe, that is the question (with apologies to Shakespeare)

Regular readers of this blog may remember a recent poll in which we posed the following question: Do you think dictionaries should: Describe language as it is being used Prescribe how language should be used Be a mixture of prescriptive and descriptive The results were as follows: 70.27 % were in favour of a mixture, […]

100  years of the Concise Oxford Dictionary

From telegraphese to texting: one hundred years of the Concise Oxford Dictionary

Part of the fascination of investigating the story of a dictionary which has achieved its centenary is to find windows which open on to very different worlds. It was particularly enjoyable, through files, letters, and papers, to meet the early editors of what was to become such an iconic book. Henry Fowler: ‘a pleasant occupation’ […]

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