A recent contribution to the ANDC Word Box was the word shaggledick.* The contributor provided two dictionary references for this word and suggested that it may be a ‘Mountweazel’ word. A Mountweazel is a fictitious entry deliberately added to a reference work. The term was coined by the New Yorker magazine and named after a fictitious entry for one Lillian Virginia Mountweazel in the New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975 edition). According to one of the editors: ‘It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright… If someone copied Lillian, then we’d know they’d stolen from us’ (New Yorker, 29 August 2005).
When James Murray, first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), set about his massive project of defining and chronicling the English language, he realised the need for a volunteer force to undertake the reading of printed works in the English language. In April 1879 he sent out ‘An Appeal to the English-Speaking and English-Reading Public in Great Britain, America and the British Colonies to read books and make extracts for the Philological Society’s New English Dictionary’. He asked people to: ‘Make a quotation for every word that strikes you as rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar or used in a peculiar way.’
On the 5th of July 1812 the first dictionary ever compiled in Australia was presented to the Commandant of Newcastle (NSW) by one of the prisoners under his charge—James Hardy Vaux, a petty criminal. At this time Newcastle was a secondary penal settlement for more hardened and inveterate prisoners. This was Vaux’s second period of transportation to Australia for theft—he was sentenced to twelve months hard labour for receiving stolen goods in Sydney.
Over the past few months here at the Australian National Dictionary Centre, we have been developing several digital tools for mining the content of the Australian National Dictionary, the definitive historical dictionary of Australian English. One tool analyzes the quotations in the dictionary that are used to exemplify a word’s use over time, and provides an interesting perspective on the history of publishing in Australia and an insight into the kinds of Australian words these publications contributed to our lexicon. Hence, this tool is a useful resource for everyone interested in Australian literature and language, especially Australian book historians and scholars of the history of Australian English.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Patrick White (1912–1990), the first Australian* to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was also the first Australian writer to have a significant international reputation; during his lifetime his novels often received greater critical acclaim overseas than in his own country. Continue reading →
In the practice of historical lexicography the defining of a word is evidence-based. A definition is arrived at by understanding how the word is used in context (usually in written sources) throughout its lifetime. Thus a definition is only as good as the available evidence.