Controversy

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December 18, 2012 by astraltravels

It’s a headline that would grab any editor’s attention: ‘Kiwi accused of culling dictionary entries’dictionary1

And, indeed, it did: ‘Editorial espionage’ was the subject line from the colleague who had sent the link to this New Zealand Herald article to me. Intrigued, I read on to find the man accused of culling words from the revered and sacred Oxford English Dictionary was familiar to me.

Robert Burchfield (born in Whanganui) was the chief editor of the OED from 1974 to 1981. He was the first editor to include four letter words of profanity into the tome, and he also made sure a few Kiwi-isms were in there.

Never quite sure if we get the full story from The Herald, I headed to the Guardian website to see what they said.

“Former OED editor covertly deleted thousands of words, book claims. Efforts to rewrite the dictionary in the 70s and 80s to omit entries with foreign origins described as ‘really shocking’ by author.”

So, it seems to me that Ms Ogilvie is launching her book, and he publicist found a nice hook of this ‘shocking ‘ treatment of the revered Oxford English Dictionary. (I wonder if the word Manufactroversy will make it into future editions of the OED?)

The article goes on to state that the the lairds of the English lexicon never delete any words … but hang on … what about the decision last year that cassette tape was going to be dubbed over with the word sexting?! Huh?

Okay, so Burchfield deleted some words, but he also did the world of good to the recorded English language. But here’s something from my book:

Under Burchfield’s editorship, a telephone hotline was established … [it] proved helpful to the blood-pressure levels of those of us who compulsively want to get the red pen out and adjust signage—one thoughtful signwriter phoned the hotline to confirm if ‘accommodation’ had two Ms.
Broad-minded, widely read and with a dedication to being descriptive rather than restrictive, Burchfield, with his Kiwi upbringing, certainly was more conscious of the need to include words that didn’t hail fromYe Olde Englande and which were now a part of the larger English lexicon. Language is a living, ever-evolving organic creation and Robert Burchfield was insistent that the recording of the language was not censored, despite receiving a few death threats and being taken to court for a few inclusions.
He brought new words from new worlds, colloquialisms, scientific and technical terms all together and added them to the old. He also included the ancient, managing to get his love of Mediaeval English included; Burchfield put in examples taken from The Ormulum—a twelfth-century work of early Middle English verse, which is invaluable to philologists because it preserves details of English pronunciation existing just after the Norman conquest, when the language was in a state of flux.

Should I delete him from Great Kiwi Firsts? No; Burchfield was also the first New Zealand academic to critically acclaim JRR Tolkein’s The Fellowship of the Ring and I suspect History will look kindly on him for other reasons. Read pages 244-248 to make your own mind up & let me know what you think.

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