Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Tue Sep 23 13:35:45 UTC 2003

On Tue, Sep 23, 2003 at 09:29:13AM -0400, Joanne M. Despres wrote:
> On 22 Sep 2003, at 23:37, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
> >  think the "stupid person" sense -- or rather the sense as a term of abuse
> > toward a person -- must be the basic sense despite the time order of the
> > above attestations. Compare "bitch", "bastard", "bugger", "cocksucker",
> > "motherf*cker", "son of a bitch", etc. -- several of these in HDAS for
> > example -- in (virtually) the same inanimate application meaning "something
> > annoying/accursed/difficult".

In passing, can I just ask that in situations like this we spell
out the words in question? We're all adults here, and I think we
can all handle seeing "motherfucker" spelled in full. But if I
need to search the archives, I don't want to have to try to
concoct every typographically euphemized variant of an offensive

> Yes, the vagaries of documentary survival do sometimes result in a
> primary sense's  being attested later than a secondary one.  It's a
> tricky problem for editors of an abridged dictionary trying to
> represent the historical facts in an accurate and succinct way.  If
> you're the OED, you can lay out the documentary evidence but
> place it in "logical" order to indicate that an earlier-attested word
> probably descended from a later-attested one for which earlier
> occurrences have simply not been found.

This is no longer OED's policy; we now give words in the order of
the evidence, regardless of what our expectations are for the
word's development. We do add notes if necessary to explain why
we think that something may have derived from a later-attested

HDAS will continue to present words in an assumed "logical" order
of sense development, but in these cases we will always have
notes pointing this out, as explained in the front matter.

Jesse Sheidlower
Oxford English Dictionary

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