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Auden in OED Supplement
Auden and Burchfield
During the time that Auden was Professor of Poetry at Oxford (1956-61), he became an acquaintance of R. W. Burchfield, up to 1957 a lecturer at Auden's college, Christ Church, and subsequently editor of the second Supplement to the OED. According to Burchfield himself, Auden several times urged him to insert particular words into the Supplement. On one occasion, he 'pressed me to include the word disinterested in the "now established sense of "uninterested"' (Burchfield did so, but called it 'a loose use').[1]

On another occasion, Burchfield was sitting working quietly in his room at Christ Church when the door burst open and in rushed an excited Auden, waving a sheet of paper in his hand freshly torn out of his typewriter, to insist Burchfield should put back into the OED an obscure word in a poem he had just that minute written. In telling this tale - to an audience of historical linguists at a conference in Oxford in 1988 - Burchfield gave it as his opinion that 'Auden was not a scholar and often didn't know what words meant'.[2]

Auden's treatment in the Supplement
Despite his later-expressed reservations about Auden's lexical scholarship, Burchfield put considerable effort into recording the poet's vocabulary. In 1959, two years after his appointment as OED editor (though thirteen years before the first volume of his Supplement, covering the letters A-G, appeared), he reported to the Sunday Times that the reading for Auden was 'well advanced' (Sunday Times, 1 February 1959, p. 8). Over the following years, both during and after the publication of the Supplement, Burchfield several times identified Auden as among the major writers whose work he thought should be given special attention, and even indexed for inclusion (see Indexes and inconsistencies). In the event, Burchfield's Supplement bears an inconsistent and incomplete record of Auden's language - though this is hardly surprising, given the problems discussed elsewhere of relying on material sent in by readers, and given that Auden continued to publish new poetry over the time that the Supplement was compiled (so the reading of Auden that was 'well advanced' in 1959 would have had to be supplemented every time a new poem or new collection of his work appeared).
The 766 quotations from Auden in the Supplement (or from his jointly authored works, with Isherwood, Kallman, and MacNeice) are for an interesting range of vocabulary, representative of the poet intellectually and biographically, e.g.
  1. Everyday words or phrases, some with US associations (Auden lived in the US from 1938 to 1972): e.g. allotment, clambake, climate of opinion, cocktail shaker, coffee
  2. Colloquial or slang words (again, many of US provenance): e.g attaboy, biggie, bot (a colloquial abbreviation of bottom; extraordinarily, this is illustrated only by quotations from Ulysses: 'Spank your bare bot right well, miss, with the hair-brush', Auden's 1951 volume Nones: 'The cute little botts of the sailors', and the Opies' 1959 Lore & Language of Schoolchildren, 'A kick up the bot for being a clot'); hooey, orneriness
  3. Learned classical words: e.g. acedia, agape, agora, ascesis, deus absconditus
  4. Scientific, technical, and technological words, e.g. cerebrotonic, cyclotron, entropic, eutectic, monadnock, nano-second, peneplain
  5. European loan-words often relating to the arts, e.g. acte gratuit, cabaletta ('a short aria in simple style with a repetitive rhythm'); coloratura, contrapposto, déraciné, épatant, Geheimrat
  6. Dialect words: e.g. balteringfaffle (vb; before Auden recorded only in dialect sources); mim ('Affectedly modest, demure, primly silent or quiet'); oxter, padge (= 'pudge', barn-owl); soodling, slubber, sottering (see below on baltering and soodling)
  7. Unusual words suggesting abstruse or literary reading and/or individualistic, often learned, usage: e.g. apotropaically (formed from the adj. apotropaic, 'having or reputed to have the power of averting evil influence or ill luck'); baldachined ('canopied, covered with a baldachin'); boojum (from The Hunting of the Snark); canophilia, dedolant ('that feels sorrow no more; feeling no compunction; insensible, callous'). orgulous ('proud, haughty') is an interesting example of this group. OED1 recorded the word, among other places, in Malory and Shakespeare, to be revived by Southey and Scott, then picked up by Lytton and the Saturday Review (describing Lord Rosebery). But Burchfield shows that it had a Bloomsbury afterlife in Joyce, Woolf, and Wyndham Lewis before being used by Auden and other writers: see note [3] below for the Supplement entry. 
  8. Hapax legomena and first cited uses, treated in the next section.

Hapax legomena (or so-called nonce-words) and first cited uses
Burchfield records 11 hapax legomena by Auden in the Supplement:  

      • enumer, v.
      • ingressant, 'entering, in-going'
      • dispersuade, 'dissuade'
      • metalogue 'A speech delivered between the acts or scenes of a play'
    • motted, 'situated upon a motte or mound', as in the volume Nones: 'Do they sponsor In us the mornes and motted mammelons?' (As OED1 explains, both morne and mammelon are types of hill) 
    • neotene, 'a species (or member of a species) in which the period of immaturity is indefinitely prolonged'
    • rassenschander (1937), 'the violation of the purity of the ('Aryan') race by marriage to one of a different race'; Burchfield notes that this is an erroneous form of the German rassenschande
    • solificatio, 'A radiating warmth as of sunshine', which Burchfield explains as  'An invented Latin word, formed on solific', a word which in turn means 'Impregnated by the sun' and is illustrated in OED1 with quotations dated 1559, 1650 and 1678
    • sordume, a version of sordun, an early form of bassoon
    • tart, v. 'to treat in the manner of a catamite or tart; to favour'
    • vert, a., labelled a 'poet[ic] nonce-wd' and defined as 'turning', in Age of Anxiety (1948): 'O Primal Age When we danced deisal, our dream-wishes Vert and volant'. The Supplement included the first part of this quotation as a recent example of deisal, 'righthandwise, towards the right', which had been treated in OED1. But neither OED1 nor Supplement records the use of volant ('flying') as an adverb, as instanced here.  

Auden is also cited as the first user of the following new words:
  • butch (1941)
  • Disneyesque (1939)
  • entropic (1930)
  • Mosleyite (1932)
  • numéro (1944) 'an eccentric or strange person'
  • pot-holed (1933)
  • shagged (1932) 'weary, exhausted'
  • soggily (1939)
  • spitzy (1937) 'resembling or pertaining to a Spitz dog'
  • tugged-at (1930)
  • Wooster (1939), as a reference to Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster (i.e. an amiable and vacuous young man about town).

In some of these cases (e.g. pot-holed, shagged) it seems unlikely that Auden was really first user (and new research by OED3 is likely to change the record here; see next page on Auden in OED3). But since Auden was read comparatively intensely by Supplement staff, they were more likely to encounter early examples of a word's use in his work than in other texts. The same is true of the other sources specially favoured by Burchfield (see 20c main sources in Initial results)

Words in context
Burchfield's treatment of Auden - however frustratingly inconsistent, as when some words from a poem are treated while some are not - often yields interesting information. For example, in 'Thanksgiving for a Habitat' (About the House, New York, 1965; London, 1966), 'X. Tonight at Seven-Thirty', Auden discusses the ideal dinner-party, to suggest that a group of six is 'perfect':

For authentic
comity the gathering should be small...
...Christ's cenacle
seated a baker's dozen, King Arthur's rundle
the same...
...six lenient semble sieges,
none of them perilous

is now a Perfect Social Number.
Burchfield's entry on siege updates OED1 to explain 'Siege Perilous' as 'the vacant seat at King Arthur's Round Table which could be occupied without peril only by the knight destined to achieve the Grail'. This is extremely helpful. Under semble ('like, similar'), he also updates OED1, whose last quotation is dated 1584, by adding this very example from Auden as an 'arch[aic] poet[ic]' usage. But lenient in the etymological sense Auden seems to intend here, 'soft', is not a possible meaning according to OED, while the most recent quotation for rundle, 'an object of a circular (or spherical) form', is dated 1680.

How did Burchfield decide which words to treat and which to ignore?

Dictionary reading
Elsewhere in the Supplement, Burchfield adds the quotations for baltering and soodling, both from the poem 'Under Sirius' (in Nones, New York, 1951; London, 1952: 'The baltering torrent Shrunk to a soodling thread'), to the original OED entries as the only recent examples of usage. Auden's use of baltering, following on from a last quotation of 1500, is labelled 'an isolated later example', while that of soodling, following on from quotations from John Clare dated 1821 and citation in dialect glossaries of 1854, is said to be 'poet., rare'. 
The implication for anyone familiar with Auden's love of OED is that he came across both words while reading his copy of the first edition, meaning that the words have re-entered the OED as a result of the productive, if incestuous, relationship of writers with dictionaries (for more see
Auden and dictionaries).
This relationship surfaces in a chain of quotations buried away in Burchfield's huge entry for the combinatorial forms of the adjective plain, where he prints a 1969 quotation from a review by Auden of J. R. Ackerley's autobiography (published in the New York Review of Books), as the first example of a sexual sense of plain-sewing, 'a particular kind of homosexual behaviour in which masturbation or mutual masturbation takes place'. The next quotation, dated 1971 (from the Observer Colour Supplement of 7 November), reads, 'One of my [sc. W. H. Auden's] great ambitions is to get into the OED, as the first person to have used in print a new word. I have two candidates at the moment, which I used in my review of J. R. Ackerley's autobiography [i.e. as in the first quotation]. They are 'Plain-Sewing' and 'Princeton-First-Year'. They refer to two types of homosexual behaviour.' The final quotation in the sequence, again from the TLS (21 March 1980, a letter from John Lenton), offers an explanation of the term: 'I suspect "Plain-Sewing" to be Auden's own invention, but its meaning is fairly clear, as it involves a pun on "sowing" (seed or semen) and a reference to the two-and-fro [sic] action of the hand in sewing'.

This is an impressive example of what Johnson described, in 1747, as the way quotations in a dictionary can illustrate a genealogy of sentiments - though perhaps not quite what he had in mind! Burchfield's Supplement entry for plain (reproduced, of course, in OED2) has recently been re-written by OED3, as described in Auden in OED3.

[1] Burchfield 1969: 68. This sense of disinterested was already in OED, with a first quotation from Donne, but marked as 'obsolete'. Craigie and Onions (in the first OED Supplement, 1933) had removed the 'obsolete' label and entered three further quotations, all of 1928, without comment. Burchfield added three more, his label 'often regarded as a loose use' apparently disapproving of Auden's endorsement. See further Usage and correctness.
[2] Quoted from a contemporary record of a session of the Henry Sweet Society conference in 1998 made by Charlotte Brewer.
[3] Burchfield adds the following quotations for orgulous:
1922 JOYCE Ulysses 383 Then spoke young Stephen orgulous of mother Church that would cast him out of her bosom. 1928 V. WOOLF Orlando i. 46 There was an orgulous credulity about him which was pleasant enough. Ibid. iv. 151 A covey of swans floated, orgulous, undulant, superb. 1929 WYNDHAM LEWIS King Spider (1930) iv. 227 Charles, baffled here, turns his eyes elsewhere, filled with orgulous dreams. His imagination and his early successes have turned his head. 1941 AUDEN New Year Let. 187 That the orgulous spirit may while it can Conform to its temporal focus with praise. 1946 E. LINKLATER Dark of Summer 60 Coloured prints..all were bright, fantastic, orgulous{em}and serenely defiant of war and the cold Atlantic. 1976 M. SPARK Takeover x. 147 This confidence..frequently over-rides with an orgulous scorn any small blatant contradictory facts.
Last Updated ( Friday, 11 July 2008 )
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