apple anagram arm animal aphid articulate ample analogy ace anamorphic 1884 marked the completion of the letter “A” of the Oxford English Dictionary otherwise fondly known by Scrabble players, crossword doers, spelling-challenged students as the “OED.” The “A” volume was published while researchers worked feverishly through “B.”

Bill Bryson, in 1990, commented that “no other language has anything even remotely approaching (the OED) in scope. Because of its existence, more is known about the history of English than any other language in the world.”

The commentary is interesting, especially when considering how “history” is filtered into a linguist container.  It is a process of seeking knowledge in the world, this naming of phenomena that would otherwise be unrecoginized. As Hegel notes in the Philosophy of the Mind: “This is that.” But what “this” gets left out of what “that”?

Only one word was ever actually lost during the 70 years it took to complete the First Edition, according to Simon Winchester: bondmaid, an old term to describe young female slaves. It had appeared in Johnson’s groundbreaking dictionary in the 1750s, but James Murray mislaid it among the millions of slips of paper that filled a crowded study he called his Scriptorium. The oversight wasn’t noticed until after the volume Battentlie – Bozzom had been published, and bondmaid had to wait decades until the rest of the dictionary was completed before editors could find a spot for it. The word finally showed up in the OED’s first supplement, printed in 1933. (CBC)

James Murray in his Scriptorium

Again, interesting and just to throw a wrench into the celebratory hoopla over “A”:  In the Faustian desire to control the order of things from “A” to “Z,” what and whose history gets “mislaid”? How, as Hayden White argues, “can we be sure that words really designate the things they are meant to signify?

But what “life,” “labour,” and “language” are is nothing but what the relationship presumed to exist between words and things permits them to appear to be in a given age (White, “Foucault Decoded” 257)

In the misplacing of the “bondmaid,” does it not metaphorically reflects the social negation of the lives of enslaved women and girls?

Latest OED edition includes:
browser channel surf click control freak dot com double click duh dumb down feelgood factor full monty functional food genetically modified home page hypertext link newsgroup pay-per-view quality time road rage search engine serial killer serial monogamist slacker snail mail spam urban myth video-on-demand webmeister acid jazz to … zero tolerance

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