Daggers and devouresses

Daggers and devouresses

Words of the World: A Global History of the Oxford English Dictionary

by Sarah Ogilvie

Cambridge University Press, $34.95 pb, 241 pp, 9781107605695

Nothing ever gets taken out of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) – at least, that’s what I believed until I read this book. Words which are no longer used simply stay where they are, complete with their quotations, and the addition of a small dagger symbol (†) to signify their obsolescence: for example, devouress (defined in 1895 as ‘a female devourer’), whose earliest known use was in John Wycliffe’s 1382 translation of the Bible, and whose most recent known use was in a 1611 dictionary of the Italian and English tongues. So it was shocking to discover that OED editor Robert Burchfield removed a considerable number of words from the four supplementary volumes of the dictionary, the first of which appeared in 1972.

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Published in November 2013 no. 356

Bernadette Hince

Bernadette Hince is a dictionary-maker and historian. She is the author of The Antarctic Dictionary: A Complete Guide to Antarctic English (2000).

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