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Review of  Words in Dictionaries and History

Reviewer: Lyda Fens-de Zeeuw
Book Title: Words in Dictionaries and History
Book Author: Olga Timofeeva Tanja Säily
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 22.4570

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EDITORS: Timofeeva, Olga and Säily, Tanja
TITLE: Words in Dictionaries and History
SUBTITLE: Essays in honour of R.W. McConchie
SERIES TITLE: Terminology and Lexicography Research and Practice 14
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2011

Lyda Fens-de Zeeuw, Lexical Analysis Centre, University of Toronto

This festschrift contains fifteen articles brought together in honour of
Roderick McConchie's long career as a researcher on the history of the English
language in general and lexicography in particular. The collection presents
papers by students as well as colleagues on historical lexis, focusing
especially on English. Preceded by a tabula gratulatoria, a preface by David
Vancil, and an introduction by the editors, the book is divided into two parts.
The first contains seven papers dealing with the history of dictionaries, with
diachronic analyses spanning the period from the Baroque period to the latest
online lexicographical databases. The eight papers in the second part cover word
history and cultural history. Here etymological aspects, word-formation and
semantic developments are analysed in relation to cultural and societal changes.
The editors stress that this division is fairly arbitrary.

The papers vary in length from 11–24 pages, and the book contains an index of
personal names and an index of subjects, while each paper is introduced with a
set of keywords.

In the first essay, ‘The Flores of Ouide (1513). An early Tudor Latin-English
textbook’, Ian Lancashire discusses ''The flores of Ouide de arte amandi'' (1513),
published by Wynkyn de Worde. This Latin-English textbook was based on the
verses in Ovid's ''Ars Amatoria''. Lancashire explores how a book about the
technique required to obtain the love of others came to be used by students of
grammar schools for translation exercises. Its potentially ''steamy'' contents
would fall under the category of ''blotterature'' -- a term coined by Dr. John
Colet, a dean of St. Paul's School in the early sixteenth century, which
indicated works of secular authors such as Ovid -- that were forbidden in
Colet's school. Lancashire further tries to learn more about the book's author
''Walter''; although he offers several well-founded arguments about his possible
origin, Walter's identity remains obscure.

The next paper, ‘“Halles Lanfranke” and its most excellent and learned
expositive table’, is by Jukka Tyrkkö, who paints a portrait of the
sixteenth-century master surgeon and medical lexicographer John Halle. Halle was
particularly known for his translation of Lanfranc of Milan's surgical manual
''Chirurgia parva'' into English, a translation subsequently known as ''Halles
Lanfranke'', the contents of which are discussed here, too. In the process Tyrkkö
shines some light on the surgical community and the controversy between the
College of Physicians and the Company of Barber-Surgeons in London (Pelling and
Webster 1979). Lack of adequate knowledge of Latin prevented many surgeons from
participating in the medical debate, and to them Halle's book was a welcome
contribution to their education.

By a step-by-step process of elimination, in ‘John Lane’s Verball. A lost
Elizabethan dictionary project’ John Considine unravels the mystery that
surrounds the identity of the author of the anonymously published narrative poem
''The First Booke of the Preservation of King Henry the vij'' (1599-1600).
Information from the epistle dedicatory and ''The Author to his booke'' gives
several clues that enable Considine to point with fair certainty to John Lane of
Bentley, a member of a Staffordshire gentry family with connections to the
Countess of Oxford. Lane, moreover, is found to have had a connection with the
earl of Shrewsbury and the earl of Essex. Subsequently, Considine argues, Lane
must have been the projector of the ''Verball'', a dictionary project announced as
forthcoming in ''The First Booke''. Considine further describes the likely shape
and size of this ''Verball'', and explains why it was never published.

Gabriele Stein, in the fourth paper entitled ‘The linking of lemma to gloss in
Elyot’s Dictionary (1538)’, gives an overview of how medieval dictionary
compilers linked headwords, or ''lemmas'', with explanations, or ''glosses''.
Additionally, she extensively discusses how Sir Thomas Elyot, in his
Latin-English dictionary from 1538 -- the first book that was actually called a
''dictionary'' -- made these relations visible to the user. Stein finds that the
use of certain linking devices made Elyot's ''Dictionary'' easily accessible, and
that judging by its contents, it is in fact a combination of dictionary and

In ‘Music amidst the tumult’, Giles Goodland reads Johnson's ''Dictionary'' (1755)
against a concordance of Johnson's poems and plays. He discovers that Johnson
left out several words from the Dictionary that he used in those poems and
plays. Goodland gives an overview of these words and tries to explain why these
words did not make it. It appears that the majority of them are from the poetic
register and a surprisingly large number of these come from Johnson's tragedy
''Irene''; some are loanwords, others are errors. For several others Goodland
assumes that Johnson simply may not have had the quotation at hand, and he
argues that including everything in a dictionary would merely make it
unmanageable and chaotic.

‘Chaos and old night’ by Elizabeth Knowles is what she refers to as ''A case
study in quotation usage''. Knowles traces the use of the quotation ''Chaos and
Old Night'' from Milton's ''Paradise Lost'' (1667) and in doing so reveals a trail
that links the seventeenth-century Milton with a twenty-first-century
journalist. At the same time she explores how dictionaries of quotations handled
this particular one. Not surprisingly, the original meaning, symbolizing a
descent into disorder, appears commonly in political commentaries, even today.
Variants appeared, such as ''chaos and eternal night'', ''chaos and cold night'',
and even in a comical twist ''chaos and old (K)night'' (Bernbaum 1930).

The final paper of this section by Julie Coleman, entitled ‘Online dictionaries
of English slang’, discusses a selection of online slang dictionaries. She
illustrates how widely these seven (Coleman erroneously mentions ''six'') lexicons
varied with respect to content, functionality, quality and coverage. Under
methodology Coleman explains how she selected 36 terms to represent both British
and American usage, and she discusses distribution, meaning and origins. Coleman
concludes that, although they provide data for slang lexicographers, none of
them are efficient lexicons. Still, they present a good starting point for
people interested in the meaning of a present-day slang term.

The book's second part begins with Matti Kilpiö’s article ‘Old English
etymologies in Chrisfrid Ganander’s Nytt Finskt Lexicon (1787)’. Kilpiö took on
the challenging task to discuss the first etymological Finnish dictionary,
Ganander's ''Nytt Finskt Lexicon'' (1787). His goal was twofold: he tried to trace
Ganander's sources; and he set out and was able to show that almost half of
Ganander's Old English etymologies are mistaken. In his section on the OE
material for the ''Nytt Finskt Lexicon'', Kilpiö gives examples of OE etymology
that are correct, partly correct or erroneous, and he concludes that the balance
between correct and incorrect cases of etymologizing shifts to positive only by
a very small margin. However, he argues, Ganander's achievement must be
considered in the context of his own time, in which the value of his work
becomes clear. Kilpiö further notes how remarkable it is that Ganander focused
so heavily on OE etymology, and he ends by agreeing with both Häkkinen (1995)
and Harviainen (2005) that Ganander's skills must not be underestimated and that
people like him were pioneers in linguistic science.

To find ‘The origin of the word yeoman’, Anatoly Liberman analyses ‘yeo’ in
yeomath, which the OED cites as ''a second crop of grass'', and he finds analogues
in German and Dutch, where yeo is explained as meaning ''additional'', leading him
to conclude that yeoman means ''additional man/servant''. Although Liberman
discards the possibility of *gãman as a putative etymon of yeoman, he does note
a possible connection to Dutch and German in a citation from Whitney's ''Century
Dictionary'' (1889–1911), which might warrant further investigation. Old Frisian
-gā, meaning area, terrain, in the Middle Ages developed into ‘gouw’ (in Dutch)
or ‘Gau’ (in German), best translated as ''shire'' (Philippa et al. 2007). In
medieval Dutch-speaking territory, for instance, a gouw was governed by a
gouwgraaf, literally a ''shire earl'', who had free men at his disposal, e.g. for
defensive tasks, if need arose, who could be referred to as ‘gouwmannen’. A
parallel development seemed to have occurred here: ‘Gouwman’, still a common
surname in the Netherlands, is easily recognized in ‘yeoman’, has the same
meaning: additional man/servant, and is similarly pronounced.

Like Lancashire's article discussed above, Samuli Kaislaniemi's paper ‘Early
East India Company merchants and a rare word for sex’ deals with sex; more
precisely, with a rare word related to sex: lapidable. Kaislaniemi surveyed
dictionaries and personal letters to learn more about the occurrence and context
for this obscure word. Two definitions emerged as a result: the first is
''marriageable, or fit for a Husband'' (e.g. Kersey 1708); the second is
''stonable'', or better phrased ''that may be stoned''. Kaislaniemi finds that the
first definition can be seen as the standard definition in monolingual
dictionaries, whereas the use found in personal letters can be seen as instances
of playful language.

In the tenth paper, ‘From denominal to deverbal. Action nouns in the English
suffix -al’, Cynthia Lloyd discusses this particular group of action nouns. She
begins by suggesting that such deverbal formations did not appear frequently
until the seventeenth century. She goes on to discuss their history and
morphology, productivity and analysability, and semantics, looking at the period
from 1150 to the end of the seventeenth century. She furthermore checked
dictionary samples of first attributions against the considered usage of several
single writers, including Shakespeare, and finds her earlier suggestion
confirmed and that a semantic tendency could be identified in nouns in -al
towards signifying action or result.

In a short paper with the long title ‘A gentle Anglorum appellatur. The evidence
of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum for the replacement of Roman
names by English ones during the early Anglo-Saxon period’, Alaric Hall studies
Bede's work from ca. 731. Focusing on this particular section of the OE lexicon,
Hall explores the notion that in large parts of Britain place-names merely
gradually shifted to English, a hypothesis that he manages to substantiate by
citing from Bede's ''Historia ecclesiastica'' the various ways for referring to
the places, both with their English and their Roman names. Hall finds that there
is a correlation between the nature of the place-names and Bede's formulations
and he suggests that as a result Bede's highly formulaic references offer
indirect clues for these particular processes of change.

Leena Kahlas-Tarkka’s article ‘William Lambarde and Thomas Milles in search of
the golden past’ discusses two works by Thomas Milles: the ''Catalogue of Honor''
(1610), written in English, and ''Nobilitas Politica vel Civilis'' (1608), written
in Latin, on which the ''Catalogue'' was based. Both works contain the Anglo-Saxon
''Geþyncðo'' text dealing with people's ranks, which offers insight into ''a social
system which the author looks upon as a norm but which he thinks of as existing
in the past'' (Bethurum 1950: 459). Kahlas-Tarkka further describes William
Lambarde's (1536–1601) activities as translator of Anglo-Saxon laws into
English. In doing so she illustrates the complexity of editorial processes in
sixteenth-century England and the interests in England's ''golden past'' in that
period. She also offers insight into the various terms for ranks of nobility
used in those golden years, and she finds that Thomas Milles's name should be
added to those of translators of Anglo-Saxon laws into Latin.

The fourteenth paper, ‘Contempt. The main growth area in the Elizabethan emotion
lexicon’, is an ''emotional'' analysis of ''contempt'' nouns by Hans-Jürgen Diller.
Diller used the ''Historical Thesaurus of English'' (HTE) to develop a computer
programme allowing him to count numbers of words attested for a given year as
well as any field or subfield in the HTE. Based on this, Diller traces the
growth of the semantic field of this particular category of words. In the
process Diller offers some tentative interpretations of which words might or
might not belong to this category. The resulting data also illustrate how
already in the early years of the sixteenth century the category of
contempt-related nouns increased, indicating a growing need to express this emotion.

A worthy tribute to McConchie's interest in fencing terms, the final essay by
Joshua Pendragon and Maggie Scott entitled ‘A lexical skirmish. OED3 and the
vocabulary of swordplay’ considers how the editorial process of the third
edition of the OED could be informed by current specialist knowledge of the art
of fencing as practised in earlier days. After discussing the results of an
online search of the OED2 and of the OED3 (see Simpson in progress), Pendragon
and Scott illustrate several problems that lexicographers face when compiling
dictionary entries related to fencing, by introducing us to the historic world
of swordplay and they provide etymologies of several related words. French,
Italian and Spanish influences are considered in this respect, and as a result
they find several hints pointing into the direction of Spanish fencing schools.

''Words in Dictionaries and History'' is a wide-ranging collection of highly
insightful and informative papers on occasionally very surprising but without
exception interesting topics related to historical lexis. Even without the
subtitle, McConchie's influence is unmistakable. While covering the long period
between 731 and the present day, the book focuses heavily on Early Modern
English. It is a coherent collection of articles on well-known and well
documented dictionaries, like Samuel Johnson’s (1755) ‘Dictionary’, as well as
on relatively obscure works, such as the anonymously written ‘The flores of
Ouide de arte amandi’ (1513). It connects discussions on etymology and semantic
development with cultural and societal changes, and many authors leave the
reader with suggestions for further research. As a result, it is a valuable
addition to any lexicologist's library.

If a negative remark must be made, it will be that in-text and final references
are sometimes missing or incomplete, which could lead to confusion. For
instance, when considering Tyrkkö’s article, in footnote 14, several versions of
the Bible are referred to, which were not included in the bibliography.
Furthermore, Tyrkkö refers to both Thomas Gale and Galen, without making an
explicit distinction between the two men; additionally, Galen’s “Methodus
medendi”, although discussed in the article on page 23, cannot be found in the
bibliography. Finally, Tyrkko discusses Halle’s (1565) work, using different
variants of its title, viz. “A most excellent and learned vvoorke of
chirurgerie, called Chirurgia parua Lanfranci” (page 18), and a shortened
version in the form of “Chirurgia parva” (pages 23 and 26, for instance), while
in the bibliography the book is referred to as “A Most Excellent and Learned
VVoorke of Chirurgerie”.

Bernbaum, E. 1930. Anthology of Romanticism and Guide through the Romantic
Movement. Vol. 1: Guide through the Romantic Movement. New York: Thomas Nelson &

Bethurum, D. 1950. ''Six anonymous Old English codes''. Journal of English and
Germanic Philology, 49/4, 449-463.

HTE = Historical Thesaurus of English. University of Glasgow.

Häkkinen, K. 1955. ''Krisfrid Ganander etymologina ja leksikografina''. In J.
Pentikäinen (ed.), Kristfrid Ganander. Mythologia Fennica. Tampere: Recallmed.

Harviainen, T. 2005. ''The story of supposed Hebrew -- Finnish affinity -- A
chapter in the history of comparative linguistics''. In A. Arppe et al. (eds),
Inquiries into Words, Constraints and Contexts: Festschrift for Kimmo
Koskenniemi on his 60th Birthday. Saarijärvi Gummerus. 289-294.

Kersey, John. 1708. Dictionarium Anglo-Brittannicum. London: J. Wilde.

Pelling, M and C. Webster. 1979. ''Medical practitioners.'' In C. Webster (ed.),
Health, Medicine, and Mortality in the Sixteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. 165-235.

Philippa, Marlies, et al. 2007. Etymologisch Woordenboek van het Nederlands
Online. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. .

Simpson, J.A. In progress. ''Preface to the Third Edition''. Oxford English
Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 14 January 2010

Lyda Fens-de Zeeuw recently obtained her PhD in English historical sociolinguistics from Leiden University, The Netherlands. She is interested in grammar, letter writing, social network analyses and lexicology, mainly focusing on Late Modern English. As a guest scholar, she is currently engaged as associate editor to the electronic database 'Lexicons of Early Modern English (LEME)', at the Lexical Analysis Centre of the University of Toronto, Canada.