Friday, August 8, 2008

Apparent (But We Know How Appearances Can Be) Inconsistency in the OED

Well, we all remember what happened last time I said I found an inconsistency in a dictionary, don't we? That's right--I ended up issuing an apologetic retraction (although I did come back and belabor the subject).

An ordinary fool would cut her losses and not make any such accusations again. But as my hubster points out, I'm not an ordinary fool--I'm an anonymous fool [update, January 28, 2010: I was still using the pseudonym "Ed Absurdum" when this was originally written; in real life, I don't have a hubster, although the missus does].

But before I start, let me point out that I love the Oxford English Dictionary. I often spend hours with it. I find it irresistible. In fact, I speak of the OED in roman letters, following the advice of the Chicago Manual of Style ver. 15 (also mentioned in roman letters): "Names of scriptures and other highly revered works are capitalized but not italicized" (Chic. Man. Sty. 8:11).

Anyhow, I recently looked a word up in the OED, and it mentioned a "non-standard" usage. Hmm, I said to myself; I didn't think they hyphenated this. So I looked for the entry for non-standard; there was no such entry, but there was an entry for nonstandard. Curious, I searched the definitions in the dictionary for nonstandard and got zero hits. When I searched the definitions for non-standard, I got sixty-one hits. In other words, the form that's entered in the dictionary isn't the form the dictionary actually uses.

No comments: