Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Fri Apr 5 19:15:30 UTC 2002

On Mon, Apr 01, 2002 at 02:33:52AM -0700, Rudolph C Troike wrote:
> I enjoy Barry Popik's travel reports from around the world and from
> printed sources through time, but I am concerned that much of his effort
> in the latter realm is not effectual, since reports in English (original
> or translated) from exotic places, detailing local ethnographic facts, do
> not seem to me to meet the ordinary lexicographical criteria for attesting
> to the earliest occurrence of a form in actual English usage.

I'm not entirely sure what these things are, if they are not "actual
English usage." Surely English can be used to discuss things that
exist in "exotic" places without making the discussion un-English.

Now, as to whether such examples by themselves are enough to merit
entering a word in a dictionary (such as the OED) depends on the
nature of that dictionary.

> If occurrence of a word in a work written in English is sufficient
> to include it in the OED,

It is not. At least, not necessarily.

> then I hope that the OED editors are ready to solicit members of the
> American Anthropological Association with a request to scour all of
> the ethnographies written in the past century and a half for all of
> the local words from other languages ever cited in an ethnography.
> The results should swell the size of the OED files enormously, but
> to questionable purpose.

We'd be thrilled if they wanted to help in this way.

The OED would probably not put in a word that was found solely
in detailed ethnological reportage. However, if the word were
more widespread, we would very much like to have early examples
of it from any source at all. _Not_ to include such information
is what would obscure the history of the word.

>         "Rathskeller" drew my attention since Marckwardt lists this
> as an Americanism, i.e. as a word that entered English in the US,
> borrowed from German immigrants of the 1848 influx or possibly
> earlier from Pennsylvania Germans ("Dutch"). If Barry's
> documentation (and other similar ones from elsewhere) is adopted,
> this would potentially wipe out consideration of when and where a
> non-English word actually entered English usage.

Not at all. Barry's documentation would be extremely useful at
illustrating the actual history of the word. The information
about later currency could either be inferred from the
citations (e.g. an eighteenth-century example from a book on
travel to Germany containing a sentence such as "We spent the
evening in a place the locals call a _Rathskeller_" vs. an
1850 example from a New York newspaper of "I met him at
Wagner's rathskeller on Leonard-st."), or could be provided
explicitly in a note. If you look at the OED you'll find a
very great number of notes of the sort "Not fully naturalized
in English", "...by which time naturalized pronunciations are
evident", etc.

Ethnographic literature is just as much a part of the history
of English as anything else, and if a word has sufficient currency
that it should be included in a dictionary, I don't see any
reason why it should be left out. What about technical terms,
that exist in some particular field for ages but later achieve
some popular currency? The word _fatwa_ is found in OED from
1625, but I'm sure few people other than scholars of
Islam ever encountered the word before 1989, when Salman
Rushdie was the subject of one. Should we not include the
earlier cites?

> I'd like to see some discussion by our lexicographer list-members
> about this issue, since their criteria are likely to affect how
> historians of the language interpret dates published in dictionaries
> in the future.

I'd like to think that the OED will provide enough information
about the history of such terms that historians of the language
will be able to interpret the evidence appropriately.

Barry provides an extraordinary amount of hugely useful material
for the OED and other scholars. Does he also provide an even more
extraordinary amount of material that probably isn't very useful?
Yes. But I'd much rather have the possibility of using this
material than not to have it. We're not going to put in every
term that he reports, but when we do want to include one of
these words, I'm very glad he's been there first.

Jesse Sheidlower

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