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Thursday, 31 January 2013
Home arrow Initial results arrow Literary sources arrow Literature and the lexicon?
The editor of the twentieth-century Supplement, R. W. Burchfield, admired the strong literary bent of the parent dictionary and considered it part of his job to quote and define the language of the great poets and prose writers of his day, though he described his inclusion of 'poetical phrases' as 'mere golden specks in the whole work'. Thus he

  • defied Oxford University Press's internal objections to his inclusion of eccentric poetic vocabulary and usage in his 1962 sample material for the Supplement (e.g. T. S. Eliot's 'loam-feet', from 'East Coker') (Burchfield 1989: 11-13)
  • resisted his staff's alleged loathing of poetry ('my staff (I don't know about anyone else's) have a genuine horror of poets. I love poetry and poetical use has been poured into the Supplement, because it is my own preference compared with that of my colleagues') (Burchfield 1980: 282)
  • stated very firmly in the last volume of his Supplement (1986, p. xi) that the failure of descriptive scholars 'to quote from the language of even our greatest modern writers, leave[s] one looking at a language with one's eyes partly blindfolded'.

The reciprocal relationship between the OED and creative writers – especially the implications for OED of quoting from so many highly individual users of language – is another strand in our investigations. See Writers and the dictionary, in particular, Literary issues, and compare Burchfield's treatment of Auden and Joyce.
Last Updated ( Friday, 16 January 2009 )
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