Antedating of "Bowie Knife"

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri May 24 11:55:46 UTC 2013

On Wed, May 22, 2013 at 10:18 PM, Jesse Sheidlower wrote:
> Note also that the 1933 Supplement included 1836 and 1838 examples of
> this term, so in fact we've had pre-Dickens examples in published OED
> text for 80 years. It's not clear why these weren't incorporated into
> OED2 in 1989, and one can be forgiven for not checking the '33
> Supplement.

As it happens, Peter Gilliver gave a paper at the DSNA meeting
yesterday that explains Burchfield's rationale for not including such
quotations from the '33 Supplement when compiling the 2nd Supplement
and OED2. Many of the additional quotations given in '33 came from
William Craigie's work compiling the Dictionary of American English.
(Craigie was co-editor of the '33 Supplement, with C.T. Onions.)
Burchfield decided that these U.S. examples could be safely omitted
since they were already covered by DAE and Mitford Mathews' Dictionary
of Americanisms. This editorial decision is mentioned by Burchfield in
the preliminary matter to Vol. 1 of the 2nd Supplement (1972).

I find it pretty odd that Burchfield would intentionally ignore
antedatings already in the OED files simply because they were
available in other historical dictionaries, but apparently he thought
that other material had higher priority for inclusion given the space
limitations of the 2nd Supplement. In any case, the 3rd edition
rectifies all of this by including everything from the '33 Supplement
(restoring not just omitted quotations but entire entries that were
cut, such as the entries for foreign words discussed in Sarah
Ogilvie's book _Words of the World_.) Of course, by the time that the
revised entries see the light of day, the '33 material may be
superseded by further antedatings, as is the case now for _Bowie


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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