dirty words in dictionaries

Wilson Gray hwgray at EARTHLINK.NET
Thu Jun 3 03:26:29 UTC 2004

On Jun 2, 2004, at 9:32 PM, John McChesney-Young wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       John McChesney-Young <panis at PACBELL.NET>
> Subject:      Re: dirty words in dictionaries
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> George A. Thompson wrote in part:
>> I have long had a copy of Wessely's Latin-English Dictionary, first
>> published in the late 19th century, a pocket-sized affair
>> undoubtedly for the use of students....
>> Some years ago I made a gesture toward researching this publication,
>> but did not see any way to determine the actual date of printing of
>> my copy ...
> Harvard's copy is unhelpfully cataloged with the date "[18-]".
> Handy dictionary of the Latin and English languages. With an appendix
> of Latin, geographical, historical, and mythological proper names.
> Published :     Philadelphia, D. McKay, [18-].
> Notes : On cover: Wessely.
> Authors :       Wessely, I. E. (Ignaz Emanuel), 1841-1900.
> It's not in the LOC, the University of California library system,
> COPAC, nor in a few other catalogs I checked. Wessely compiled quite
> a few other language dictionaries that are much more commonly held; I
> wonder whether the scarcity of the Latin volume is related to its
> naughty bit(s)?
> John
> --
> *** John McChesney-Young  **  panis at pacbell.net  **   Berkeley,
> California, U.S.A.  ***

As a long-time staff member of the Harvard College Library (the
official title of what is usually referred to and thought of as the
Harvard _University_ Library), I'd like to rise to its defense. When an
imprint is given in the form, [nn-] - [18-], in this case - it does not
mean that a library is being in any way "unhelpful." Rather, it means
that, after a search of the world's libraries, booksellers, and
publishers' catalogs, the best information available to the library is
only that a given book was published in a given century. Libraries
_always try_ to provide scholars with the information that they need.
Occasionally, they fail to do so, but only because that information is
simply not to be had.
Sometimes, you eat the bear; sometimes, the bear eats you.

-Wilson Gray

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