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The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 2 vols.

Lesley Brown's New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is a distinguished lexico-graphical achievement. It is no longer merely a derivative of The New English Dictionary on Historical Principles later called The Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, as C. T. Onions's Shorter was sixty years earlier. OED was the lexicographical monument of a grand nineteenth-century conception. At the end of the twentieth century, no dictionary could be wholly derivative and remain intellectually respectable. The 'historical principles' are retained in the title of the New SOED and, broadly, in the provision of dating, and in the arrangement of senses and citations, but much of the thinking is new, practical, better and clearer than OED, though, of course, on a smaller scale.

Precise dates are no longer given for when a word (in some particular sense or in all senses) was first used; even quotations are no longer provided with dates. That is a change for the better: from a lexicographical point of view the apparent chronological precision of first, subsequent, and, for obsolete words, last use was always a possible source of error; the bibliography of OED was often insufficiently refined for such exactness, nor is exact chronology in the nature of the printed evidence or, before printing, of the manuscript evidence. The matter is admirably stated in terms of 'date ranges' in the 'Guide to the Use of the Dictionary'.

The pronunciation, the subject of another excellent section of the introductory 'Guide', is no longer presented in Murray's notation, which goes back to an age before the International Phonetic Alphabet had been devised. The New SOED uses the IPA. The name of the late A. C. Gimson is to be found in the bibliography, evidence that one or more of his revisions of Daniel Jones's famous English Pronouncing Dictionary were consulted. J. C. Wells's Pronunciation Dictionary, published in 1991, was probably too late to be used for the pronunciations in the New SOED, but my impression is that Wells would have confirmed the pronunciations as given in the New SOED, and for some debated pronunciations would have under-pinned the ranging of variant pronunciations and provided statistics for them (for example, for formidable, harass(ment), and, less clearly and without statistics, Renaissance) rather than contradicted them.

The virtually obsolete noun boot 'good, advantage' provides an excellent example of how etymologies are treated in the New SOED. When H. C. Wyld reviewed the first edition of SOED in Review of English Studies, x (1934), 85-93, he singled out for special censure the cautious treatment of etymologies, and among them that SOED expressed some hesitation as it gave the probable etymological relationship of boot and better. The New SOED shows no such hesitation; indeed, it might have been thought even less acceptable had it been hesitant now, since the etymological relationship is clearly laid out by J. Weisweiler, Busse (Halle, 1930), especially the 'Tabelle', p. 289. And yet hesitation is wise in etymological matters. Probably the New SOED was wise not to go beyond the immediate etymon for loanwords (though the 'Guide' does not tell the user that that is the policy). For example, gallop and wallop: it would have been easy to follow W. von Wartburg, Franzosisches Etymologisches Worterbuch, xvii (Lieferung 103; Basle 1966), 484-6, s.v. *wala hlaupan, and record a probable etymology. It would have been easier still to go beyond 'Russ. politbyuro, f. polit icheskii political + byuro bureau' for the etymology of Politbureau. That is done s.v. sire; and also s.v. gonfanon, where, however, the underlying, hypothetical Germanic etymon given in SOED is no longer given. That again seems a wise decision: no hypothecized etymons. Distant relatives are still given in the New SOED; there is a wide range of Indo-European cognates for many words, including foot, sit, wax, the prefix for-, and the cardinal numerals up to ten. Less secure etymological information has been reduced. Thus s.v. wither 'hostile, fierce' SOED explains the suffix -ther (it had an entry for that suffix, but that is no longer in the New SOED) as well as the stem wi-, an explanation retained (without the hypothesized form *wi-) in the New SOED. The greater logical neatness of the new dictionary shows itself in such slight changes as that s.v. wither: SOED had 'Obs[olete] or dial[ectal]', New SOED 'obs. exc[ept] dial.' Such etymological doubts as OED expressed in a rhetorical question s.v. euchre had been reduced in the old Shorter and in T. F. Hoad's The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology to a brief 'of unkn[own] orig[in]'; now the looked-for German etymon is given in the New SOED as German dialect Jucker(spiel), but we are not told in which dialect and when it was first used in German: this sounds too good to be true as an etymon, and, without more information, a sceptical reader might think it an English loanword in German.

S.v. emulous we find late Middle English given for the time when the word came into the language in a sense no longer current. There is no late Middle English quotation, and when we go to OED (there is no entry in Middle English Dictionary) the quotation from Trevisa's Bartholomaeus Anglicus is misleading, as is shown by the edition produced in 1975 by the team led by M. C. Seymour (this book of Trevisa edited by Malcolm Andrew) where the Latin word is clearly not yet naturalized (I, 425.29-31): 'In ham that haueth that lepra that hat elephancia the colour and hiew is emulus "folowinge and swynge".' That appears to be the evidence on which the New SOED bases the dating of the borrowing. As an English word it is recorded first in Scottish, and somewhat later in Shakespeare who uses it in both a good and a bad sense. For this word, as not infrequently elsewhere, OED is in need of correction, and Lesley Brown's New SOED should not have relied on it. Her quotations are undated in the entry but the admirable (and, as far as I have checked it, complete) list of 'Authors and Publications Quoted' at the end of the work gives the essential details; the first is from D. M. Davin (1913-1990), the second, in a different sense, from Longfellow (1807-1882). The old Shorter, last published in the 'third edition completely reset with etymologies revised by G. W. S. Friedrichsen and with revised addenda' (1973), is fuller on the early Modern English uses; it also claims, no doubt based on Trevisa, that the word came into Middle English, and it provides a last date for senses now obsolete. Since OED was better at recording first uses than last uses of words and especially of senses of words, the New SOED is wise to give up the attempt to date the last use of a sense, though it indicates that the sense 'covetous of praise or power; envious' is found only from early to mid-seventeenth century, 'E-M17' - where 'M17' refers to the OED quotation of 1655-1660.

Neither OED nor the 1973 SOED had an entry for en croute, unlike the New SOED where it is dated 'L20', late twentieth-century. There is no quotation. French culinary terms like en croute usually appeared earlier in the language than 'L20', as a glance at Elizabeth David's French Country Cooking shows: it was first published in 1951, and became a popular 'Penguin Handbook' in 1959. Probably en croute slould have had the same date as en daube, 'E20', early twentieth-century. How far the following phrases (used in French Country Cooking), a group to which en croute and en daube of course belong, are naturalized, and whether they were so as early as the 1950s, is debatable: en brochettes, en cocotte, en confit, en gigot, en papillotes, en salade, en terrine. The New SOED has entries for brochette, cocotte, gigot, and terrine, but does not record the phrases with en. It does, however, have an entry for the plural oeufs en cocotte with a mistaken pronunciation, while R. W. Burchfield's Supplement to OED has an entry in the singular correctly pronounced, but all his quotations are in the plural and that explains the plural in the New SOED. Like OED, the New SOED treats the phrase en papillote (singular) s.v. papillote. S.v. casserole R. W. Burchfield's Supplement to OED has the phrase en casserole, not retained in the New SOED; yet one of the OED quotations is from Agatha Christie, and none is from G.A. Escoffier where it is used of 'special poelings' as a term synonymous with en cocotte. Neither OED nor the New SOED has an entry for poeling to which Escoffier devotes many pages. Surprisingly, the New SOED has no entry for confit, only for comfit, the sweet (though of course not for late Middle English in comfit recorded in OED, and in MED s.v. confit). It is easy to point to the omission of such, mainly foreign, technical terms in an English dictionary of the size of the New SOED. It is even easier to point to the omission of wines and foreign cheeses. A reviewer should resist the temptation to point to such omissions: it would have been wrong if Stilton had been omitted; it is marvellous to have such good definitions as are to be found under Brie and Emmental; but it would have been supererogatory to have included Appenzell or forme d'Ambert, however much a reviewer may like these varieties.

Of course, dictionary-makers pride themselves that they have included recent words. It is good to find keyboarder and keyboardist as well as nerdish (s.v. nerd). More central to good lexicography than the inclusion of neologisms is the art of definition. Here the Oxford tradition has every reason to be proud to be derivative of OED and Supplement, that it can draw by right on Murray, Onions, and Burchfield.

The dust-jacket of the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary cries up the work as 'The new authority on the English language'; it is a bold claim, and publishers should beware of overboldness in self-praise. A 'shorter' dictionary cannot hope to be authoritative in the way in which OED and Supplement were authoritative, and as a specialized dictionary can hope to be authoritative, as Daniel Jones's, A. C. Gimson's revision of Jones, and J. C. Wells's dictionaries of English pronunciation could justly claim to be for pronunciation. And yet, more modestly (and less absolutely expressed than as 'the new authority', perhaps with stress on the definite article) the Clarendon Press has every reason to be proud of Lesley Brown's dictionary: it would be hard for a lexicographer to improve on it in a work of under four thousand pages - and at [pounds]60 it is a bargain.

E. G. STANLEY Pembroke College, Oxford
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Author:Stanley, E.G.
Publication:Notes and Queries
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1995
Words:1805
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