[?] Re: "flying fuck"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Fri Apr 18 12:57:28 UTC 2008

At 4/18/2008 06:45 AM, Barnhart wrote:
>Dear Jesse (and any other linguists),
>I can't imagine any truly competent scholar not consulting OED about
>matters of the lexicon.  Of course, independent research is valuable.
>But, avoiding OED is foolish, if not hazardous.

I am regularly told "the OED cannot tell us the earliest date when a
word was used, since there must be many earlier unread written
sources and something may turn up."  (Some say merely, and
reasonably, that words are generally in use orally before they appear
in print -- but some of them then go on to unwarrantably assert some
earlier date for the words they are interested in.  But oral
"evidence", before the age of sound recordings, is not recoverable or
not subject to test and validation.)

Of course.  Just as any statement denying historical evidence of
something may turn out to be incorrect after a later
discovery.  "There is no copy of _The Scarlet Letter_ with
Hawthorne's handwriting (manuscript or annotated printed
copy)."  Oops -- a corrected page proof was discovered, including
some corrections in Hawthorne's own hand, in a dusty file drawer of
the Natick Historical Society about four years ago, where it had
rested for more than a 100 years.

But the OED's quotations certainly are hard evidence that a word was
used at various times, and with certain senses.  And the absence of
quotations from earlier dates certainly should be taken as good
supporting evidence for an inference -- subject to later
falsification -- that a word was not used earlier than a certain date.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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