The confessional sciences: scientific lexicography and sexology in the Oxford English Dictionary

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The empirical advancements of scientific lexicography, on whose principles the Oxford English Dictionary was founded, paralleled the developments made in a range of other sciences in the nineteenth century. Rejecting the overt linguistic prescriptivism of many earlier lexicographers, the OED’s editors aimed to approach language as a natural system akin to any other; like their fellow scientists, they were concerned only with objective fact. Yet the representation of any human behaviour will necessarily be selective and subjective, and the conflicting evidence of real linguistic usage would complicate the lexicographers’ ideals of impassive collection and analysis. The better to cast this problem into relief, this paper juxtaposes scientific lexicography with another, more controversial nineteenth-century science: sexology. Sexologists’ pathologisation of ‘deviant’ sexual desires gave rise to an extensive new taxonomy, which the OED began documenting in the early decades of the twentieth century. Drawing on unpublished draft material from the dictionary’s archives, this paper examines the scientific ideologies of lexicography and sexology as they interacted in the OED, exploring what they reveal about the tension between scholarly principles and social practice.

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Unlike most areas involving taboo, where language-internal innovations tend to dominate, homosexuality is characterized by a basic international vocabulary shared across multiple languages, notably English, French, Italian, Spanish and German. Historically, the lexis of nonnormative gender identity has shared space with that of sexual orientation. This lexicon includes (inexhaustively) the following series of internationalisms: sodomite, bugger, bardash, berdache, tribade, pederast, sapphist, lesbian, uranist, invert, homosexual, bisexual, trans, gay, queer . This common terminology has resulted from language contact in a broad sense, and more specifically from lexical borrowing (loanwords). Several framing devices are expressed through the lexicon: religious censure, distancing in time and space, othering, medicalization or pathologizing, but also in recent decades LGBTQ self-assertion and demands for equality. Rather than necessarily being subject to taboo, then, queerness represents a pragmatically marked semantic field in which the lexicon is highly dependent upon social factors and the communicative context.
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Conceived in 1882 as a literary ‘Siberia’ in which ‘improper books’ could be kept out of the hands of impressionable undergraduates, in the first decades of the twentieth-century the Bodleian’s ‘Φ’ (Phi) collection served as an ark within which avant-garde writing could weather the storms of obscenity prosecutions and Customs seizures. Despite having held in its time approximately 2,100 obscene and libellous works, the Phi collection has never been the subject of sustained critical scrutiny, nor does it feature in any of the major published histories of the Bodleian. The present article is intended to offer a detailed, though by no means definitive, account of the origins, contents, and development of the Bodleian’s restricted collection from its establishment in the late-nineteenth-century to the completion of its most substantial restructuring in the middle of the twentieth. While necessarily provisional, this account of the collection’s origins and development is intended not only to offer a snapshot of a hitherto undocumented facet of the Bodleian’s institutional life, but to indicate the extensive opportunities that the Phi collection affords for future research into the transmission and reception of a wide range of literary and non-literary texts. In doing so it offers the possibility not only to chart the mechanisms through which obscene works were acquired and made available to readers by the Bodleian, but to analyse the conditions under which the category of obscenity itself was being constructed and contested in Britain in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-centuries.
The legendary Oxford English Dictionary today contains over 600,000 words and a staggering 2,500,000 quotations to illuminate the meaning and history of those words. A glorious, bursting treasure-house, the OED serves as a guardian of the literary jewels of the past, a testament to the richness of the English language today, and a guarantor of future understanding of the language. In this book, Charlotte Brewer begins her account of the OED at the point where others have stopped-the publication of the final installment of the first edition in 1928-and carries it through to the metamorphosis of the dictionary into a twenty-first-century electronic medium. Brewer describes the difficulties of keeping the OED up to date over time and recounts the recurring debates over finances, treatment of contentious words, public vs. scholarly expectations, proper sources of quotations, and changing editorial practices. With humor and empathy, she portrays the predilections and personalities of the editors, publishers, and assistants who undertook the Sisyphean task of keeping apace with the modern explosion of vocabulary. Utilizing rich archives in Oxford as well as new electronic resources, the author uncovers a history no less complex and fascinating than the Oxford English Dictionary itself.
Although there are continuities with earlier slang lexicography, particularly in the work of Eric Partridge, the period covered by this volume sees a number of marked social and lexicographical changes. The post-war cultural dominance of the United States is evident throughout, as is the influence of African-American music and language. Slang dictionaries also document attempts by Britain and its colonies to (re)define their sense of national identity. Musical and cultural trends each produced their own characteristic slang, which was manipulated by commercial interests to target the youth market. Homosexual slang was documented first as a diagnostic tool for psychiatrists, but later became an expression of gay pride. Attempts to associate homosexuality with communism label gay rights as a significant threat to the structure of society. Drugs were another threat that became dominant in this period, and the punitive response saw a rapidly increasing prison population. Dictionaries of crime during this period tend to concentrate on the language used inside prisons rather than by criminals at large. But slang is not just for left-wingers. British dictionaries of rhyming slang and dictionaries of Australian slang both express anxieties about immigration through their attempts to construct a working-class national identity. Right-wing pressure groups in the United States produced dictionaries of slang to reveal the threat represented by homosexuality and rock music. The biggest backlash is found in the numerous dictionaries of CB radio, which allowed blue-collar white southerners to reconstruct themselves as freedom-fighting urban cowboys.
The study of English language and literature in Britain changed dramatically between the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. From Philology to English Studies explores the contribution of philology to this evolution. Haruko Momma charts both the rise and fall of philology from antiquity to the late eighteenth century, and the impact of modern philology on the study of modern languages and literatures. Focusing in detail on the work of key philologists in the nineteenth century, Momma considers how they shaped European discourse and especially vernacular studies in Britain: William Jones’ discovery of Sanskrit in British India gave rise to Indo-European studies; Max Müller’s study of this same language helped spread the Aryan myth to the English-speaking world; the OED achieved its greatness as a post-national lexicon through the editorship of the Scottish dialectologist.
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Using archival resources on the data assembled in making the first edition of the OED, as well relevant revisions introduced across later editions, this chapter examines the representation of gender across a period of conspicuous ideological, lexical, and semantic shift. Focussing on the ‘Woman Question’, a topic which, across the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, encompassed a range of key issues in gender terms (such as education, political representation, and equality), it explores the cross-currents of dominant ideologies, definition, editorial omissions, and acts of reading as they come to affect the making of the Dictionary. As for newly introduced forms such as the new woman or suffragette, the same terms can be strikingly polysemous, depending on one’s point of view. Lexicographers, as Murray had stressed in his ‘General Explanations’, have, however, ‘to draw the line somewhere’. The chapter explores the difficulty of that ‘line’, as well as the ways in which it can drawn (and redrawn) by different editors across the Dictionary’s history.
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content: Herbert Coleridge Herbert Coleridge was the first editor of the Philological Society's New English Dictionary. Footnotes 1. Proposal for the Publication of a New English Dictionary by the Philological Society. London: Trübner and Co. 1859. Price 6d. Footnotes 1. Proposal, pp. 17-24. 2. I cannot help taking this opportunity of expressing my great regret, that the claims of two such authors as Robert of Gloucester and Robert Brunne, to a place in this series should have been overlooked. Their chronicles are important as philological no less than as historical monuments, and a new edition of Robert of Gloucester, based on the Cottonian MS., instead of the later and inferior Harleian MS. which Hearne was compelled to use, would form a most attractive volume. Now that the scheme is no longer confined to unprinted works, it is to be hoped that these authors will receive the consideration which they most eminently deserve. Copyright © 1988 Dictionary Society of North America Project MUSE® - View Citation MLA APA Chicago Endnote Herbert Coleridge Esq. "A Letter to The Very Rev. The Dean of Westminster." Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America 10.1 (1988): 115-124. Project MUSE. Web. 8 Jan. 2014. <>. Herbert Coleridge Esq.(1988). A Letter to The Very Rev. The Dean of Westminster. Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America 10(1), 115-124. Dictionary Society of North America. Retrieved January 8, 2014, from Project MUSE database. Herbert Coleridge Esq. "A Letter to The Very Rev. The Dean of Westminster." Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America 10, no. 1 (1988): 115-124. (accessed January 8, 2014). TY - JOUR T1 - A Letter to The Very Rev. The Dean of Westminster A1 - Herbert Coleridge Esq. JF - Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America VL - 10 IS - 1 SP - 115 EP - 124 PY - 1988 PB - Dictionary Society of North America SN - 2160-5076 UR - N1 - Number 10, 1988 ER - ...
In this condensed version of her book, Sedgwick reflects about the "closet" as a regime of regulation of gay and lesbian lives that is also important to heterosexuals since it guarantees their privileges. Sedgwick affirms the "closet", or the "open secret", has been basic to lesbian/gay life for the last century even after Stonewall (1969). She also states that this regime - with its contradictory and constraining rules and limits about privacy and disclosure, public and private, knowledge and ignorance – has served to shape the way in which many questions about values and epistemology were comprehended in the Western Society as a whole.
[Studies of Diderot, Heine, Whitman, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Huysmans.] [Withdrawn before publication at the request of executors of Symonds, recently deceased. A German translation of this work by Hans Kurella, entitled DAS KONTRÄRE GESCHLECHTSGEFÜHL, was published at Leipzig, George H. Wigands Verlag, in 1896.] Rptd from preceding version, omitting Symonds' contributions and allusions to Symonds in the pref). 2nd ed, revd, Phil: F. A. Davis, 1901. (Renumbered as STUDIES, Vol II). 3rd ed, revd and enlgd. 1915, pp. xi, 391. [interesting material on Walt Whitman.] [Studies of Nietzsche, Casanova, Zola, Huysmans, St. Francis .] [Pvtly ptd pamplet, pp. 23. HE's account of his work, SEXUAL INVERSION, and trial proceeding from Bedborough's sale of a copy.] [Misleading imprint: volume was not pub. in Leipzig, but in England]. 2nd ed, (revd and renumbered as STUDIES, Vol I), Phil: F. A. Davis, 1903; 3rd ed, revd and enlgd, pp. xv, 352. New ed, with new pref on the Spanish Civil War, 1937. [Called RACE DEGENERATION in biblios of Collis and Calder-Marshall; is correctly listed in Peterson and not mentioned at all by Goldberg.] [Series of notes in diary form with frequent comment on literary figures...
Lynda Mugglestone is Professor of History of English at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford. She has published widely on language in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Recent work includes Lexicography and the OED: Pioneers in the Untrodden Forest (Oxford University Press), 'Talking Proper': The Rise of Accent as Social Symbol (Second Edition, Oxford University Press), Lost for Words: The Hidden History of the Oxford English Dictionary (Yale University Press), and The Oxford History of English (Oxford University Press).
There is a pervasive view, held by academics and educated laypeople alike, that the Oxford English Dictionary is a descriptive work. When plans for this great dictionary were first taking shape, the originators made their intentions very clear. Archbishop Trench, delivering the two lectures to the London Philological Society in 1857 which initiated the project, famously stated the axiom that the lexicographer ‘is a historian of [the language], not a critic’, while the Philological Society's Dictionary Committee announced to its members in a document of 1860 that their job was to list and describe words accurately and disinterestedly.
Cet article explore la construction medicale de l'homosexualite en Angleterre au 19e siecle et montre l'interaction entre medecine et loi d'une part, et le developpement de theories en venereologie, behaviorisme et psychologie du sexe d'autre part.
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