Skip

PURGE: verb: to make free of something unwanted
November 29, 2012 8:06 AM   Subscribe

An eminent former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary covertly deleted thousands of words because of their foreign origins and bizarrely blamed previous editors, according to claims in a book published this week.
posted by Chrysostom (24 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fascinating story, but the New Yorker is debunking it. Who knows?
posted by texorama at 8:13 AM on November 29, 2012 [10 favorites]


And not really "just" the New Yorker but the "Editor at Large, Oxford English Dictionary, and President Elect of the American Dialect Society"

The debunking is actually an even more interesting story. And I'm glad that it goes on to state the book described in the Guardian article is:

rather different from how it was portrayed in the Guardian story. It is a sober analysis of the approaches to loanwords taken by various O.E.D. editors, and does not attribute malice to Robert Burchfield’s rational editorial decisions


Because now I'm more prone to read it.

God, why are dictionary stories so interesting to me?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:33 AM on November 29, 2012


That is a persuasive debunking
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:35 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oldspeak is doubleplusungood.
posted by jquinby at 8:35 AM on November 29, 2012


Because of their "foreign origins"? What a putz.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:35 AM on November 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Great link, texorama, thanks.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:37 AM on November 29, 2012


"This is really shocking. If a word gets into the OED, it never leaves. If it becomes obsolete, we put a dagger beside it, but it never leaves," Ogilvie said.

You'd think these poor words might prefer to disappear and live happy lives in the foreign lands from which they came, rather than stick around and get shanked by an editor.
posted by The Prawn Reproach at 8:40 AM on November 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


Read this story a few days ago, and wondered exactly what was behind it. It seems there is a perfectly good explanation for what he did.
posted by Jehan at 8:53 AM on November 29, 2012


Stwike him, Centuwion. Stwike him vewy wuffly!
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:56 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the Guardian article:

chancer A verb from American English meaning "to tax"

ummm... what?
posted by dhens at 9:00 AM on November 29, 2012


You never heard of Emmett Chancer? He was the first sherriff/taxman in the Wild West, and nobody wanted to get on his bad side.
posted by cmyk at 9:20 AM on November 29, 2012


Maybe he was trying to give back all the words we've stolen borrowed.
posted by ubiquity at 9:24 AM on November 29, 2012


Oh wait, then he would have had to delete all of them.
posted by ubiquity at 9:26 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is my new favourite way to take the moral high ground when I argue with strangers on the internet: It is a damfool shame that you chose to exaggerate one aspect of this to create a controversy where none existed.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:32 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


: "Because of their "foreign origins"? What a putz."

Putz...or saboteur?
posted by mullingitover at 9:39 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is my new favourite way to take the moral high ground when I argue with strangers on the internet: It is a damfool shame that you chose to exaggerate one aspect of this to create a controversy where none existed.

There's a word for that: "benghazied."
posted by yoink at 9:50 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


A further debunking by the ever-dependable Christopher Howse in the Telegraph:

Today an online lexicographer can find room for any hapax-legomenon or even ghost words such as abacot, supposed by many a dictionary to have been a cap of state worn by English kings, but in truth a misreading for “a bycoket”. No tree need die to record aberglaube or danchi, calabazilla or igloowik (“a kind of igloo”). It was not so in Burchfield’s day.

Still, a story can't be all bad if it gives Christopher Howse the opportunity to use the term 'hapax legomenon' in a national newspaper.
posted by verstegan at 9:58 AM on November 29, 2012


> Because of their "foreign origins"?

That Indo-European, it just gets into everything.
posted by jfuller at 10:31 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dictionary drama! Who would have thunk it?
posted by mrbill at 10:32 AM on November 29, 2012


So now the English language has its own Académie française?This is what happens when prescriptivists run amuck.
posted by TedW at 12:34 PM on November 29, 2012


chancer A verb from American English meaning "to tax"

ummm... what?


Apparently it was an 18th-century back-formation from chancery. There is a discussion of the word and numerous citations in The Nation in 1905, interestingly enough. It appears to have been primarily a type of legislative jargon, though.
posted by dhartung at 1:41 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


when prescriptivists run amuck

*twitch*
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 5:50 PM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


For five years, Webster's New International Dictionary mistakenly included an entry for dord, a word which did not exist.
Dictionary-makers do make mistakes from time to time though, and one of the more famous errors was the appearance of the ghost word dord in the second edition of Webster's New International Dictionary in 1934. Dord was listed on page 771, between the entries for Dorcopsis (a type of small kangaroo) and doré (golden in color), as a noun meaning density in the fields of Physics and Chemistry.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:39 AM on November 30, 2012


That bit about dord is interesting. But I have to wonder if it might have been an unacknowledged copyright trap, or perhaps they misspelled fnord.
posted by TedW at 11:47 AM on November 30, 2012


« Older Let's Spruce This Place Up A Bit!   |   Hope is not a good strategy... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post