Did you know that James Murray… may not have been all that keen on the word ‘dictionary’?
2015 marks the centenary of the death of James Murray, the first Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. Murray’s work as a lexicographer is well known, but there was a great deal more to him than lexicography. We are therefore marking the anniversary with an occasional series of articles highlighting other aspects of his life and achievements.
One of the many magazine articles describing a visit to Murray’s Scriptorium in Oxford which appeared during the three decades he was at work there is one by Louise Manning Hodgkins which appeared in the New York Independent in August 1894, a few months after Miss Hodgkins had visited Oxford. In her account of her visit, after referring to the impressive collection of dictionaries which Murray had built up in the Scriptorium, she reported that ‘Dr. Murray regrets the word dictionary, which he said applied properly to a book of phrases, as the Dickens’ Dictionary, or the Dictionary of London, and affirmed that vocabulary is the proper term to apply to his work.’ Murray’s own entry for the word dictionary, which would not be published until December 1895, makes no mention of this point, and no other reference to his opinion on the subject has come to light; however, there is a certain piquancy to the thought that he might have preferred the book that was to be so closely associated with his name to be titled The Oxford English Vocabulary.