November 27, 2012

Major dictionary editor deleted thousands of words he didn't like

Guardian, UK - 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.

Robert Burchfield's efforts to rewrite the dictionary have been uncovered by Sarah Ogilvie, a linguist, lexicographer and former editor on the OED.

... She undertook a detailed analysis of Burchfield's supplement, comparing it with the 1933 supplement by Charles Onions and William Craigie. She found that, far from opening up the OED to foreign linguistic influences, Burchfield had deleted 17% of the "loanwords" and world English words that had been included by Onions, who included 45% more foreign words than Burchfield.

Examples of Burchfield's deleted words include balisaur, an Indian badger-like animal; the American English wake-up, a golden-winged woodpecker; boviander, the name in British Guyana for a person of mixed race living on the river banks; and danchi, a Bengali shrub. The OED is now re-evaluating words expunged by Burchfield, who died in 2004, aged 81.

"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.

In tracing the discrepancy back to its origins, she found that the dictionary's first editor, James Murray, in the 19th century, was harshly criticized for including contributions by correspondents from as far away as Ceylon, Mexico, and New Zealand. One reviewer wrote: "There is no surer or more fatal sign of the decay of a language than in the interpolation of barbarous terms and foreign words."

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