The evolving role of the OED
Posted: 25 November 2013 10:16 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Interesting article in the Financial Times. Some appetizers:

Look for a topical expression in the Oxford English Dictionary and you may find it is older than you think. “Phone-hacking”, for example, was first used in the early 1980s. Americans have been worrying about “fiscal cliffs” of one kind or another for more than 50 years. And the desire for an “Arab spring” goes back to at least 1975 – or longer in the case of cyclists, for whom the term was coined in the late 19th century to denote a component in the suspension of saddles.

Words need a bit of a track record to make it into the OED. Once there, the rule is that they never come out, with obsolescence marked, instead, by dagger symbols sprinkled like memento mori through its pages. In general, the lexicographers look for evidence of at least 10 years’ use, though they do break this rule occasionally: “tweet” in its Twitter sense is included despite only having been around since 2006; the more recent “trending”, however, is not. “It’s on the back burner,” says Craig Leyland, a member of the new words team. “If it keeps being used in the same way, then it will most likely be going in.”

Lexicography, unlike journalism, is a field in which deadline extensions can occasionally be justified. James Murray (1837-1915), the indefatigable editor who oversaw much of the first edition, was originally commissioned to produce a four-volume work within a decade; after five years, he had got as far as the word “ant”.

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Posted: 25 November 2013 01:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Lexicography, unlike journalism, is a field in which deadline extensions can occasionally be justified. James Murray (1837-1915), the indefatigable editor who oversaw much of the first edition, was originally commissioned to produce a four-volume work within a decade; after five years, he had got as far as the word “ant”.

Just had to comment that this bit brought to mind one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, The Adventure of the Red-Headed League.

I did not know about the ten-year rule for the OED.  Today I noticed that the Oxford Dictionaries online had, as an informal definition of literally, used for emphasis or to express strong feeling while not being literally true.  I am surprised it’s old enough to be included.

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Posted: 25 November 2013 01:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I am surprised it’s old enough to be included.

You’re a victim of the recency illusion. The figurative use of literally is nearly two centuries old.

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Posted: 25 November 2013 01:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The OED cites examples of the non-literal literally back to 1769.
(Pipped by Dave!)

[ Edited: 25 November 2013 01:49 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 25 November 2013 02:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Of course, 1769 is more than two centuries old.

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Posted: 25 November 2013 04:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The sense of the 1769 citation is in question. As can be seen in the Big List entry I linked to, the literally could be referring to a literary (actually biblical) reference, it could be referring to the fact the writer is quoting the Bible word for word, it could be in the figurative use we know today, or it could be in reference to all three. The earliest unambiguous usage in the figurative sense is from 1801, hence the “two centuries.” (I’d forgotten the 1801 citation when I said “nearly,” thinking the earliest was one from 1839.)

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