Category Archives: Dictionaries and Lexicography

We’re moving! Go to “The Life of Words”!

For the last two and more years, I’ve been posting here on topics related to poetry, dictionaries, computers, and so on. Over 100 posts later, it’s time for a new home. As of June 15, 2014, I’ll be posting at my new project site: The Life of Words I hope you’ll visit us there […]

Vnhouzzled, disappointed, vnnaneld: Hamlet in the eyes of the OED

In my last post I demoed my OED Recontextualizer, which annotates texts according to how they have been used as citation evidence in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition. The program re-writes the file in HTML, showing the number of times a particular passage of text is quoted in OED, and the headwords under which […]

Omit Needless Fossil Poetry

Chasing down a famous quotation today, I came across a volume in the College of Dentistry Library of the University of California, San Francisco, generously made available by Google Books. The publication is the 1896 yearly digest of Items of Interest, by The Dental Independent, which describes itself as “a monthly record of dental literature”. […]

Shakespeare’s Dictionary

There has been some recent press on the claims of George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler, two rare books dealers based in New York, to have discovered William Shakespeare’s own dictionary. What’s more, the claim is based on the extensive annotations in the reference work, John Baret’s Alvearie, or Quadruple Dictionarie (1580), which they bought on […]

“Making sense” in The Excursion

At the “Poetry and Happenstance” conference last Friday, there was a question from the floor about a line break in William Wordsworth’s long poem The Excursion. The lines are from Book IV: The light of love Not failing, perseverance from their steps Departing not, for them shall be confirmed The glorious habit by which sense […]

Poetry and Happenstance at Cambridge

Notes and thoughts from “Poetry and Happenstance”, a day-long symposium at Cambridge University, which took place last Friday, 4th April. There were eight papers in all: Anne Stillman – “What appears to be yours” In the opening talk, Stillman expressed some unease about what was really meant by the symposium’s key title word, happenstance. This […]

Lightening Poles

I’ve come across a pair of definitions for lightening (n.) which, while not antonymous (or antagonymous) nonetheless represent a kind of polarity. And not any old polarity–the polarity, probably. The first definition comes from the Oxford American Dictionary: A drop in the level of the uterus during the last weeks of pregnancy as the head […]

Two Poetry Conferences in April

I’m currently getting material together for two conference papers in April. The first is for “Poetry and Happenstance” at Cambridge on April 4, which is a theme that fits nicely with the topics I’ve been pursuing over the last few years. The title I’ve given the organizers is “The way it is: authority, arbitrariness, and […]

Automation ambition

A recent XKCD: As always, make sure to mouseover the comic for the extra punchline. This discovered as the computer nears the end of its second week of churning through self-comparisons of 2.3M quotation strings from OED2. At last check it had reached string #878,745, so about 37.4467539286% of the way home. It turns out […]

#WOTYOTY. Because many, many #WOTY

Another week, another WOTY. Because marketing. The most recent and the final additional winner is because, chosen by the American Dialect Society a few days ago. Because “because marketing” … I mean, because expressions such as “because marketing” broke into the mainstream in 2013. This represents “new grammatical possibilities in informal online use,” says Ben […]

“Graduate” or “be graduated”? Graduation on the active/passive divide

On the radio tonight I heard a person use passive “graduate” in a sentence: She was graduated a year early, because she was a top student I’m aware of this usage, and vaguely aware that it can be cited as “correct” usage by mavens. But while I’ve heard the transitive active form (e.g. “the school […]

Advance Access: Method as Tautology in the Digital Humanities

My article, “Method as tautology in the digital humanities” has gone up on Literary and Linguistic Computing‘s advance online publication area. If you have an institutional affiliation that lets you access Oxford Journals, it can be found here: [It appears Oxford are now offering the article free: download PDF here] In the article I […]

“Fail, n.” #NOTWOTY

The social media are in the midst of a brief kerfuffle over “selfie”, Oxford Dictionaries’ “Word of the Year”, hashtag #WOTY. And “hashtag”, of course, was last year’s #WOTY, as chosen by the competing #WOTY-maker, the American Dialect Society. ADS chose “tweet” in 2009, and “app” in 2010, both of which seem to have more […]

O hell-kite! All? – Antedating verse coinages

In case you thought any of the top eleven most common words invented in verse were actually invented in verse, it’s worth following up with an illustration of the inherent contingency in any lexicographical record. As everyone knows, the OED is in the midst of its first complete revision. My list of poetic neologisms was […]

Top Eleven Most Common Words Invented in Verse

Poetry and lexicography, buzzfeed style. Having recently ranked the neologisms of prolific poetic word-coiners, I decided to look at all verse-coined words in OED [*caveat], and rank them according to their frequency in British National Corpus. Only words first attested after 1500 are included, on the basis that a large proportion of the lexicographical record […]

Unremarkable Poetic Neologisms

The word soulmate is by now at least verging on cliché, if not well in that category, which is why it was somewhat surprising and refreshing to learn that the OED lists Coleridge as the first user of the word. It was a reminder that common words can have uncommon origins–and that the coiner loses […]

Soulmate, Yokemate, Housemate, Helpmate

Today’s Facebook brings a thread that does most of the legwork for a regular P&C-type post: In OED2, soul-mate was listed under soul, n., along with other compounds, such as soul carrier, -curer, -thief, and -twister. The new OED3 Online gives it its own headword, soulmate, n. and updates the Coleridge quotation to what you […]

Forthcoming: ‘Method as Tautology in the Digital Humanities’

I’ve just recently sent Oxford Journals the typescript for an article due out in Literary and Linguistic Computing, called ‘Method as Tautology in the Digital Humanities’, in which I develop a concept of method in computer assisted literary criticism, using some my recent work with the OED. The article is both a case study describing […]

Hanover, Hannover

In early December I’ll be in Germany, presenting a poster and short talk at “(Digital) Humanities Revisited – Challenges and Opportunities in the Digital Age”. The whole trip is generously funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, which among its various activities supporting research in academia and beyond, puts on a series of conferences at the Herrenhausen […]

New words for new words

What do you call a newly invented word if you don’t already have a word for newly invented words? Here is OED’s record of the earliest evidence for various words for new words, the making of new words, and the using of new words. Not all of these authors would be pleased to find that […]

Boehner’s Eking Along

Did John Boehner have John Clare’s 1829 ode on “Autumn” on the mind this afternoon when he said: At a time when the economy is barely eking along, wages aren’t increasing, new jobs aren’t available, and what are we doing? [source] The normal idiom in English is eking out, usually with “… a living” or […]

“Create”, “Creative”, “Creativity”

What have you created recently? Or, what have your various possessions let you create? In the comments to my post on the rise of “lets you”, it emerged that the third most common thing you can be let to do is “create.” And in fact, since “lets you know” is operating differently from the others, […]

Inter (and Intra-) necine?

You probably have used, or heard used, the word internecine. But what could the word intranecine mean? Either you have an intuition regarding this or you don’t (even if you’ve never encountered the word). If you do have an intuition about intranecine, take a minute to examine it–what basis can you come up with for […]

Word and Sense Creation in OED

Look up a common word in the OED, and chances are you’ll find it was first recorded in English over 700 years ago. Every word in the previous sentence is at least that old, with an average (mean) age of 1,022 years. So it stands to reason that, all other things being equal, the farther […]

“Chicken scratch”, coined by Shakespeare in 1909?

In “Emily Dickinson was a Dinosaur” I conjectured that T. W. Higginson might have been riffing on the idiom chicken-scratch when he described Emily Dickinson’s handwriting as resembling the “famous fossil bird-tracks” of Amherst. Now I’m not so sure. Higginson published his essay in 1891. But chicken scratch  and variants aren’t in OED2 or OED3, nor  […]

Dies Caniculares

Lines against lines in summer:   Though I in Prochyta with greater ease Could live, than in a street of palaces. What scene so desert or so full of fright, As towering houses, tumbling in the night, And Rome on fire beheld by its own blazing light? But worse than all the clattering tiles, and […]

How to get “D’oh!” and “Bullshit” into the OED

I’ve been writing about missing links in chains of quotation evidence in OED. In the first case [redress] I think it’s likely OED staff came across the word in The End of the Poem and didn’t think it necessary to chase down the full referential context (which would have been fairly evident from about one […]

Chains of OED Evidence

Derek Attridge writes, in a comment to my post on OED quotation loops [“Smithers, Redress the Hounds!” 5.6.13]: W. H. Auden boasted to me that he had got a word — “plain-sewing” in the sense of “mutual masturbation” — into the OED by using it in print for the first time; but the OED now […]

“OED’s Poetic Acquaintances” – Slides

Here are my slides from the very good Poetry and the Dictionary symposium last weekend at St Peter’s College, Oxford. Slides: “OED’s Poetic Acquaintances” For anyone not at the conference, the slides may be difficult to interpret. I’d be happy to provide context over email, and provide higher quality images [depending on your version of […]

Smithers, Redress the Hounds!

This post is about evidence loops in the OED. But let me begin at the end: In one of his Oxford lectures collected in The End of the Poem, Paul Muldoon refers back to his predecessor’s famous discussion of the word redress. Muldoon writes: … in “The Redress of Poetry,” Seamus Heaney’s inaugural lecture as […]

Quotation Economy in the OED

Almost all of OED2’s 2.36M evidence quotations are used only once. Less than 1% are reused: 14,916 occur twice, 553 three times, 29 four, 3 five, and two six times. These most recycled [5x +] quotations are: a 1400–50 Alexander 4335. Nouthire to toly ne to taunde transmitte we na vebbis, To vermylion ne violett ne […]