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Partridge demolished
Posted: 27 September 2007 07:50 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I seem to remember someone on this forum expressing respect for the work of Eric Partridge.  I have always been suspicious of him, and now I know why: G. Legman, in “The Cant of Lexicography” (American Speech, Vol. 26, No. 2, May, 1951, pp. 130-137), a response to a whiny letter from Partridge apparently complaining about a review (though he never mentions the review or the specific grounds for complaint), demolishes him as thoroughly as I have ever seen a lexicographer demolished.  An excerpt:

Not to put too fine a point to it, Partridge’s treatment of his sources
is, in general, not in conformity with twentieth-century scholarly practice.
He has no hesitation whatever about incorporating, en masse, into
a single dictionary published under his own name, the entire vocabularies
of dozens of other dictionaries on precisely similar subjects, with
minimum acknowledgment and no further improvement-at least in the
obsolete material (which is the greater part of all slang and argot)-than
that effected by a single alphabetical order, by the typographical confrontation
of many sources, and by his rather mannered paraphrasing
of their definitions, undertaken in the first place, as he plainly admits,
to evade copyright.

When, on the other hand, he observes certain similar but far less
sweeping appropriations of source material in bygone and less scrupulous
centuries, as in the use of definitions from Vaux’s glossary (London,
1818) in Pierce Egan’s Grose, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue
(London, 1823), Mr. Partridge--who has also edited Grose (London, 1931)
--does not hesitate to refer to this vigorously and often as ‘plagiarizing’
(Dictionary of the Underworld, at breaking-up, plant upon, spoil, etc.).
I should like to call particular attention to the remarkable, not to say
alarming, grounds on which he defends (though no man pursues) his
wholesale use of source materials:

There is no copyright in language; no monopoly. . . . There is, however, copyright in
what one writes about language, as about any other subject. The lexicographer’s definitions
are copyright and, if they are quoted exactly, they must be acknowledged. Nor may
the entirety of terms in a dictionary, a glossary, an article, be reproduced without
acknowledgment--at least, until those terms become, after (say) five years, the common
property of scholarship
. . . [My italics.]

This is rewriting both the copyright law and the canons of scholarship
with a vengeance.

He provides samples of Partridge’s idiotic attempts at etymology and various other blunders and dishonesties.  Anyone with access to JSTOR or a good library should read the whole thing.

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Posted: 27 September 2007 09:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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What a lovely find, and every word of the criticism is justified. I’ve always been wary of Partridge. I remember reading his Shakespeare’s Bawdy many years ago and finding it ill-informed and misleading, with Partridge finding obscene allusions in the most ludicrous of places. True, the Bard is full of bawdy innuendo and many words are charged with a sexual freight, but Partridge found it in words where no Shakespearian scholar ever had and, as usual, gave not the slightest piece of evidence for his interpretations.

I have his Dictionary of Historical Slang on my shelf but, truth to tell, I rarely consult it. The entries are mostly unsourced and I don’t trust his dates. As a work of reference it’s practically useless.

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Posted: 27 September 2007 02:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I see this thread title and I can’t help thinking, “Is the pear tree OK?”

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Posted: 27 September 2007 03:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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That’s a parsnip in a pantry, Doc.

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Posted: 27 September 2007 03:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Partridge pretty much worked solo IIRC. Partridge defended himself in a letter to AS later in 1951 IIRC. Partridge’s slang dictionary filled a need; maybe it still does although now I suppose the Cassell’s dictionary covers the same ground. HDAS is of course a much more authoritative work, but limited to Americana.

Partridge’s etymological speculations are often nonsense, of course, but I don’t believe he made great claims for their reliability ... presumably he did the best he could.

Note (e.g.) that Legman ‘corrects’ Partridge’s etymology of “nooky”, although Legman’s derivation is just as iffy as Partridge’s IMHO; HDAS says “origin uncertain” (I agree).

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Posted: 29 September 2007 01:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Recently I have heard that the earliest OED citation of “Bob’s your uncle” is from Partridge (1937). Legman implies that most of Partridge’s entries were simply copied from elsewhere: I suppose this may be a notable exception, since if it was copied from an identifiable earlier work I would expect the OED entry to show the earlier source. Somebody who has on-line OED access might be able to search for OED quotations from Partridge. Are there many of them? If there are, Partridge is surely vindicated as a lexicographer (although maybe not as an etymologist).

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Posted: 29 September 2007 03:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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844 hits for Partridge as a cited author, 78 of them as first cited author.  These may not all be Eric Partridge, but unless there was another Partridge compiling slang dictionaries in the 20th century, spot-checking indicates that the overwhelming majority refer to him.

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Posted: 29 September 2007 04:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Legman implies that most of Partridge’s entries were simply copied from elsewhere

That’s not the way I read it; he’s saying that P. steals wholesale, not that everything he has is stolen.  His having legitimately gotten first cites for a bunch of words does not disprove the allegation.

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Posted: 29 September 2007 08:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I guess Legman was mostly addressing the _Dictionary of the Underworld_ anyway, but the title of this thread and the tone of Legman’s article suggest (to me) a general disapproval of Partridge’s work.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with paraphrasing earlier dictionaries. Legman says (as I understand him) that Partridge did very little field work and _almost only_ copied from predecessors (especially Farmer and Henley). F&H is a big book, and I think to publish a supposedly comprehensive slang dictionary without reference to it would be (a) difficult and (b) ill-advised. One can of course disagree with the wordings of acknowledgements etc.

Which of these would you rather have?

(1) Joe Blow’s Personal Slang Glossary (5000 entries): Mr. Blow has spent 20 years compiling slang from personal life, from his reading, and from contributors. He gives every source explicitly. He has not relied on any other glossary or dictionary in any case. He says if you want to know what F&H say you’d better buy a copy of F&H, since he objects to even the slightest borderline plagiarism.

(2) John Doe’s Comprehensive Slang Dictionary (100,000 entries): Mr. Doe has spent only 10 years on his personal compilation but he has also scoured all previous major dictionaries and included all the appropriate words from them. In many cases he has only slightly modified their definitions (he says after all some of these are very brief and there are only so many ways to say something). He lists these sources in his “acknowledgements” but does not routinely give attributions by entry. He has included all the words from Joe Blow’s book and from dozens of similar ones, with blanket acknowledgement only. So far, although a few reviewers have been critical, Mr. Doe has avoided the law court.

I’d buy number 2. This might resemble Partridge’s slang dictionary. Others might have different preferences. I might consider buying number 1 too, if ‘the price was right’.

Jonathon Green’s “Acknowledgements” in _The Cassell Dictionary of Slang_ (1998): p. iv:

//

The profession of lexicography is, inevitably, a plagiaristic one .... Thus one’s primary acknowledgement must be to the slang collectors of the 16th century onwards, best-known among them Robert Copland, Thomas Harman, ..., Francis Grose, John Camden Hotten, Albert Barrère and Charles Leland, John Farmer and W. E. Henley, George Matsell and Jonathan Lighter. And above all, and most personally Eric Partridge, the exemplar of the breed and the arbiter of modern slang lexicographers, ....

//

Opinions vary.

[ Edited: 29 September 2007 08:15 PM by D Wilson ]
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Posted: 30 September 2007 06:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I would think the main reason for the OED to include Partridge as the first citation without listing where he found the term is that the OED editors could not locate the original, either because Partridge was not specific in his citation or the original has been lost.

There is (at least) one major problem with copying wholesale from a slang dictionary. That is that frequently slang terms with little actual currency worm their way into dictionaries and glossaries. There are hosts of words that cannot be found except in lists of and books about slang terms. Like an animal species that exists only in zoos, these captive terms get passed from dictionary to dictionary, never to be found “in the wild.” Your better dictionaries, like HDAS, weed these out, but many of the lesser ones give these terms more prominence than they deserve.

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Posted: 30 September 2007 07:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Ah, I see you must have been the Partridge fan I was thinking of, D Wilson.  As you say, opinions vary.  I find P’s work unreliable enough not to be worth consulting except as a last resort.

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Posted: 30 September 2007 09:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Like quite a few medical practitioners.

I do not like thee, Dr. P,
Thou’st no reliability;
So, when I do consult with thee,
It’s faute de mieux, dear Dr. P.

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Posted: 30 September 2007 10:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I wouldn’t say I’m a Partridge ‘fan’. I like a useful dictionary.

I’d prefer one big inclusive book, digitized and searchable, rapidly updated, with lots of citations (something like a bigger and better OED). I would like it to be readily available and affordable (very much unlike the on-line OED). I would want it to include even obscure words (in fact these are the ones I’m most likely to need a dictionary for). If a word appears in (say) Farmer and Henley or Wright’s EDD or some word list in AS, I would like it to appear in the big book, no matter that somebody might say it was “stolen” from the earlier publication.

We don’t have anything like that. HDAS is the best for slang ... IF it’s American and starts with A-O. Farmer and Henley is pretty good given that it’s about 100 years old. We have the new Cassell dictionary. I suppose that most of the entries in the Cassell book nearly duplicate material in Partridge and other dictionaries and word-lists ... probably were obtained from such sources in many/most cases ... how could it be otherwise? There are problems with error propagation as I think Dave Wilton has just pointed out. The dates and etymologies and even the definitions may be doubtful in such a book ... but it’s what we have, and a lot better than nothing. I HOPE the Cassell book (or whatever other modern slang dictionary I might have available, say Chapman’s) is more reliable than Partridge, but I don’t know for sure myself.

I’m surely no expert on this stuff. I’d appreciate any pointers to useful sources of which I may be ignorant!

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Posted: 30 September 2007 11:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Are you not somewhere where your library card will provide access to the online OED from any computer, D Wilson?

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Posted: 30 September 2007 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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OED on-line from home via the public library?

I can get a lot of stuff on-line (from home) from the nearest big-city public library, through agreements with all the little local libraries (one of which is mine). Last time I checked, though, the OED was not available in this way, or even by visiting the little local library: to use the on-line OED, I would have to drive 15 miles or so into the city, pay top dollar for parking, and access the OED through the PC in the big library ... which of course has hours of operation very similar to most folks’ working hours. I don’t see why the library would have anything to gain by this arrangement; I assume that the OED license prohibits off-site use; possibly there is an alternative of a higher-priced license which would permit off-site access but which the library didn’t feel it could afford; I asked the librarian, who had no idea.

However, things do change and I haven’t checked this for a few years; when I get a chance I’ll check again; thanks for the reminder.

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Posted: 30 September 2007 11:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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This should be a permanent topic on the meta forum. Quite a few libraries in the UK and US allow this. Mine does.

If anyone doesn’t have access this way, send me a private message.

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