"empath" as lexicographic lacuna

Jeff Prucher jprucher at YAHOO.COM
Mon Nov 24 20:06:44 UTC 2008

From: Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
Sent: Monday, November 24, 2008 8:28:58 AM
Subject: Re: "empath" as lexicographic lacuna

>At 11:17 AM -0500 11/24/08, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>>On Mon, Nov 24, 2008 at 11:08 AM, Laurence Horn
>><laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
>>>  I was curious about when the word was first attested,
>>>  and to my surprise _empath_ is unlisted in either the (online) OED or
>>>  AHD4, despite the fact that it has both a wikipedia entry (albeit
>>>  largely devoted to the science-fiction ESP-y variety of empath as
>>>  opposed to the more general sense invoked by Connelly's FBI agent and
>>>  the Acrostic designers) and "about 730,000" raw g-hits for the word.
>>It's in the Science Fiction Citations database (on Jesse's site) and
>>the book it
>>spawned, _Brave New Words_. Here's the online entry, with cites back to 1956:
>...which makes it all the odder that it's not in the standard dictionaries

My guess is that the non-SF/fantasy use is comparatively recent, and may not be common enough to be on the radar of most dictionaries. Paging through the first few pages of results for "empath" in Google Books shows mostly SF or fantasy works, with some additional hits for the same sense from parapsychology books, with a only few self-helpy books for the non-SF/non-paranormal sense.  I imagine the OED will pick up "empath" when it gets around to "E", but outside of Oxford, I have no idea how much the existence of the SF Citations project or BNW influences dictionaries.

Jeff Prucher

Editor, Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction

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

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