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Title: Using dictionary evidence to evaluate authors’ lexis : John Bunyan and the Oxford English Dictionary
Authors: Coleman, Julie M.
First Published: 2013
Publisher: Dictionary Society of North America
Citation: Dictionaries, 2013, 34, pp. 66 - 100
Abstract: This paper builds on the work of many scholars who have demonstrated that the coverage of individual works and authors in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is shaped by their literary status (see, for example, Schäfer 1980). Although this is now a well established fact, it does not discourage popular and scholarly assertions about the unusual creativity of a writer or the particular influence of a work based on their provision of OED citations (see Brewer 2012b; McConchie 2012). Indeed, the accessibility of the “top 1,000 authors and works quoted” on OED Online encourages this approach. The continued scrutiny of the lexis of well-represented sources produces additional new words, senses and antedatings, and thus the circular process of reputation-enhancement is sustained. Brewer (2009; 2012a) argues that, in the same way that some authors were systematically favoured in the original compilation of the OED, others were systematically side-lined. She finds, for example, that female authors tend to be cited specifically for domestic terms rather than for evidence of general usage. McConchie (2012) finds that the treatment of compounds and level of detail in definitions also varies between authors. This paper argues that OED1 made similarly stereotyped use of citations from the works of John Bunyan and that the citations selected from his works were shaped by his declining literary reputation in the centuries following his death. The creative use of compounds is a characteristic feature of Bunyan’s written style, perhaps reflecting the wider usage of contemporary dissenters, and these are not represented in the same detail as compounds used by more canonical writers. This paper also argues that changes in editorial policy and the use of electronic searches for OED3 are likely to lead to Bunyan slipping down the OED’s table of most frequently cited sources.
DOI Link: 10.1353/dic.2013.0018
ISSN: 0197-6745
eISSN: 2160-5076
Version: Post-print
Status: Peer-reviewed
Type: Journal Article
Rights: Copyright © The Authors, 2013.
Appears in Collections:Published Articles, Dept. of English

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