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How Some Phrases Do—Or Don’t—Make It Into Print ‹ Literary Hub

How Some Phrases Do—Or Don’t—Make It Into Print ‹ Literary Hub

2023-10-30 19:55:15

One summer time morning in 1883, Alexander John Ellis sat at his desk in entrance of three massive bay home windows, opened vast to catch any breeze that London’s Kensington needed to give. From his chair, he might hear the birds within the airplane timber and see proper down Argyll Street, its five-story white stucco Georgian homes resembling layers of an costly marriage ceremony cake. By the point everybody else was rising, Ellis had typically already been up for a number of hours. Early morning was his favourite time of day. Ellis cherished the notion of getting forward whereas others have been sleeping, and getting work carried out earlier than his neighbor, a grasp singer, began his scales and taught his college students by the open window. “The nuisance is terrible at occasions,” he wrote to Murray. Ellis all the time ate the identical mild breakfast of a French roll with butter, and drank his signature beverage: a cup of heat water with somewhat milk.

This present day, as day-after-day, his first act on waking was to weigh himself bare, earlier than dressing for the day. At all times the identical boots and coat, affectionately named Barges and Dreadnought, earlier than heading straight to his desk on the second ground. He wanted to weigh himself earlier than placing on his garments for one most important purpose: Dreadnought was heavy. Dreadnought had twenty-eight pockets, each stuffed full with eccentric gadgets. Ellis made a noise like a kitchen drawer as he walked. When he sat down, eyewitnesses stated that his pockets “stood upright like sentinels.” They have been variously filled with letters, nail clippers, string, a knife sharpener, a e book and philological papers in case of emergency, and two issues {that a} teetotaller and somebody who watched his weight not often wanted: a corkscrew and a scone, simply in case buddies have been in need of both. These final two gadgets sum up Ellis; he was kind-hearted and all the time considered his buddies earlier than himself.

Most individuals hear sounds, however Ellis noticed them.

On his desk, there have been indicators of every little thing that he held pricey: a draft of the fifth and last quantity of his monumental e book, On Early English Pronunciation, daguerreotypes of Venice and his three kids, a tuning fork, and a favourite citation from Auguste Comte, the founding father of altruism, “Man’s solely proper is to do his obligation. The mind ought to all the time be the servant of the guts, and may by no means be its slave.”

This morning held a particular pleasure: additionally unfold out in entrance of him have been Murray’s proof sheets for the primary part of the Dictionary (phrases A to Ant)—all 362 pages of them. Murray had despatched them to Ellis for his remark. As Ellis’s eyes skimmed the proofs, he couldn’t assist on the lookout for his personal title within the Introduction. He felt a way of profound satisfaction to see “A. J. Ellis, Esq, FRS (Phonology)” listed between Prof. Frederick Pollock (Authorized phrases) and Dr P. H. Pye-Smith (Medical and Organic phrases).

Ellis’s passions have been pronunciation, music, and arithmetic, and his experience in all of those areas had been sought by Murray who had had problem discovering British teachers to assist him (in contrast, American students have been desirous to be concerned). He had helped Murray with the very first entry within the Dictionary—A: not solely the sound A, “the low-back-wide vowel fashioned with the widest opening of the jaws, pharynx, and lips,” but additionally the musical sense of A, “the sixth observe of the diatonic scale of C main,” and eventually the algebraic sense of A, “as in a, b, c, early letters of the alphabet used to precise identified portions, as x, y, z are to precise the unknown.” Ellis was joyful to see these and different outcomes of his work on the printed web page, together with the phrases air, alert, algebra.

Many individuals, not solely in Britain however world wide, have been eagerly awaiting the looks of the primary a part of the Dictionary, and Murray significantly needed Ellis’s opinion on the draft Introduction, which he knew he needed to get good. All of it learn completely to Ellis apart from one part. “The Dictionary goals at being exhaustive,” Murray had written. “Not everybody who consults it’ll require all the knowledge provided; everybody, it’s hoped, will discover what he really needs.”

Is it actually exhaustive? Ellis questioned. What about slang and coarse phrases? He scribbled to Murray within the margin (and the web page with the scribble nonetheless survives right this moment within the archives), “You omit slang & maybe obscenities, thus are not at all exhaustive. Although unpleasant, obscene phrases are a part of the lifetime of a language.” Feeling happy together with his contribution to Murray’s landmark first a part of the Dictionary, and admiring of the venture as a complete, Ellis positioned the corrected draft into an envelope and positioned it by his entrance door, prepared for the morning publish.

Ellis had raised an vital query about inclusion, however he was not fairly proper in regards to the boundaries of the Dictionary. Murray had included slang but it surely was true that, to this point, he had overlooked obscenities. We will solely think about the uproar in Victorian society had he not. Murray would agonize over his determination to go away them out, but additionally needed to be conscious of the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 which made it unlawful to show the general public to any content material judged to be grossly indecent.

Murray’s warning proved smart when, a number of years later, a fellow lexicographer and one of many Dictionary Folks, John Stephen Farmer, had his personal authorized drama. Farmer was writing a slang dictionary with William Henley, and was struggling to publish the second quantity (containing the letters C and F) of his work on grounds of obscenity. Farmer took his writer to courtroom for breach of contract in 1891, and tried to persuade a jury that writing about obscene phrases in a dictionary didn’t make him personally responsible of obscenity, however he misplaced the case and was ordered to pay prices. Finally, he discovered recent printers and averted the Obscene Publications Act by arguing that his dictionary was revealed privately for subscribers solely, not the general public, and the outstanding Slang and Its Analogues by Farmer and Henley was revealed in seven volumes (from 1890 to 1904), with cunt and fuck and plenty of different phrases considered lewd on its pages. Farmer’s authorized case and the general public outcry that ensued was a transparent deterrent for Murray.

By the point that part of the letter C was revealed for the Oxford English Dictionary the one cunt that was listed by Murray was cunt– , a cross- reference to the prefixes cont– , count- with no point out in anyway of the feminine physique half. Fuck was additionally overlooked. Though these previous phrases had been in use for the reason that thirteenth and sixteenth centuries respectively, they must wait till the Nineteen Seventies to be included within the OED. Murray did, nevertheless, embrace pudendum, a phrase derived from Latin for “that of which one should be ashamed,” which he outlined as “the privy components, the exterior genital organs” with no reference to a lady or—God forbid—her vulva.

Every of Murray’s advisers had completely different notions of what was offensively salacious. His adviser on medical phrases, James Dixon, who was a retired surgeon dwelling in Dorking, Surrey, had been all proper with together with cunt, however completely drew the road with a phrase which he thought of so obscene it needed to be despatched to Murray in a small envelope marked PRIVATE, sealed inside a bigger envelope. Contained in the intriguing packaging was a message advising him to not embrace the phrase condom. “I’m writing on a really obscene topic. There’s an article referred to as Cundum…a contrivance utilized by fornicators, to avoid wasting themselves from a well- deserved clap; additionally by others who want to take pleasure in copulation with out the potential of impregnation,” he wrote to Murray. “Every little thing obscene comes from France, and I had supposed this affair was named after town of Condom, which provides title to a Bishop.” However he had discovered a citation from 1705 referring to a “Quondam” which made him rethink his assumption that it was named after the city in France. “I suppose Cundom or Quondam will likely be too totally obscene for the Dictionary,” he concluded. Murray left it out.

Dixon was the person who unwisely suggested Murray to delete the entry for appendicitis as a result of it was, in keeping with Dixon, simply one other itis-word. “Absolutely you’ll not try to enter all of the crack-jaw medical and surgical phrases. What do you consider ‘Dacryocystosyringoketokleitis’? You realize medical doctors assume the best way to point any irritation is to tack on ‘itis’ to a phrase.” The phrase’s deletion turned out to be a humiliation to Murray and Oxford College Press when, in 1902, the coronation of Edward VII was postponed due to the King’s assault of appendicitis. Out of the blue everybody was utilizing the phrase, however nobody might discover it within the Dictionary, and for the reason that letter A was already revealed it couldn’t be added till the Complement quantity in 1933.

However again to the summer time of 1883. Murray obtained the corrected proofs from Ellis. He not solely appreciated Ellis’s suggestions but additionally trusted his judgement: he promptly deleted all claims to exhaustiveness and wrote, “The intention of this Dictionary is to furnish an enough account of the that means, origin, and historical past of English phrases now on the whole use, or identified to be in use.”


I had been questioning how Ellis acquired to be such a phrase nerd? I used to be fascinated by what I found. To start with, one thing very uncommon occurred when he was eleven years previous. His mom’s cousin, a schoolmaster referred to as William Ellis, provided to present the younger boy a considerable inheritance if he would change his surname from Sharpe to Ellis. Mr and Mrs Sharpe agreed, and from then on “Alexander John Sharpe” grew to become “Alexander John Ellis.” The younger boy was enrolled at Shrewsbury College and Eton, educated at Trinity Faculty, Cambridge, and by no means needed to earn cash for the remainder of his life.

Ellis’s wealth enabled him to be the quintessential “gentleman scholar,” an skilled in virtually every little thing he did, be it music, arithmetic, languages, phonetics, journey, or daguerreotype images. He was a polymath for whom life was extra a science than an artwork. He revealed over 300 articles and books, and his works are quoted within the OED 200 occasions.

Phrases have been like kids to Ellis.

His curiosity in accent and pronunciation was impressed by the truth that he was born to a middle-class household in Hoxton, east London, the place he was uncovered to working-class cockney audio system, adopted by education at Shrewsbury with its Welsh and English accents, after which uncovered to the Acquired Pronunciation of the higher and upper-middle lessons at Eton and Cambridge.

Phrases have been like kids to Ellis. He cherished them equally, no matter whether or not they have been frequent, technical, scientific, slang, or international. He learn the Dictionary as if it have been a novel. Some phrases gave him pure enjoyment of each their sound and that means comparable to absquatulate, to abscond or decamp, with a citation from Haliburton’s Clockmaker. “Absquotilate [sic] it in fashion, you previous skunk…and present the gents what you are able to do.” However it was their sounds that captured his creativeness most. The standard of a whisper or a creak; the stress of a syllable; excessive pitch or low pitch.

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Most individuals hear sounds, however Ellis noticed them. He noticed the air transfer within the mouth, the best way the tip of the tongue touched the ridge of the enamel for a t; the vibration of vocal cords to vary it to a d; and the way the bottom of the tongue moved again within the mouth to dam the circulation of air for a g. Each sound was an image for Ellis. He devoted his life to portray these photos, describing their systematic order so the world would possibly higher perceive the basics of language.

His e book On Early English Pronunciation, revealed in 5 volumes between 1869 and 1889, traced the pronunciation of English from the Center Ages to the late nineteenth century and established him as a world authority on English phonology, a pioneer within the discipline of speech-sound research. For the nineteenth-century part of the e book, Ellis enlisted the assistance of a whole bunch of informants throughout Britain and a small group of consultants, together with Murray and others inside the OED community. The consequence was the primary main research of British dialects.

No language but existed for the patterns Ellis was figuring out, so he typically needed to invent the phrases, which subsequently made it into the Dictionary: palatalized, to make a palatal sound (by shifting the purpose of contact between tongue and palate additional ahead within the mouth); labialization, the motion of creating a speech sound labial (articulated with each lips); and labiopalatalized, a sound made right into a labiopalatal (articulated with the entrance of the tongue in opposition to the laborious palate and the lips). He additionally invented the phrases septendecimal, regarding a seventeenth (in music); and phonetician, which initially referred to an advocate of phonetic spelling, reasonably than its present that means of “an skilled of phonetics.” Fairly a number of of his innovations have since fallen out of use and seem within the Dictionary with a dagger signal (which signifies obsolescence) beside them, comparable to vocalistic, of or regarding vowels, and phonotyper, an advocate of phonotypy (one other time period which Ellis invented, that means “a system of phonetic printing”).

Ellis was one of many phoneticians on whom George Bernard Shaw modeled the character of Henry Higgins, that grasp of pronunciation, in his play Pygmalion, later became the musical My Honest Woman. Higgins (as a wager together with his gents buddies) teaches Eliza Doolittle to talk “correct” English; however Ellis had none of Henry Higgins’s snobbery or vanity. He was a beneficiant, down-to-earth man, a frequent correspondent with buddies, joyful to supply recommendation when requested, and all the time working to convey individuals collectively and assist them.

Ellis spent each Sunday finishing up experiments in musical pitch on the home of musicologist Alfred Hipkins. He arrived on the Hipkinses’ by horse cab, the pockets of Dreadnought filled with tuning forks, measuring rods, notes, and resonators. In order to not trigger any hassle to the Hipkinses’ servants, the considerate Ellis even crammed his experiment jars with water for refreshment earlier than leaving house. Ellis’s work with Hipkins is preserved within the Dictionary in sure phrases which they alone invented and used—however as nobody else did they’re now out of date, for instance mesotonic, regarding the imply tone.

After a full afternoon of experiments with Alfred, Ellis would be part of the Hipkins household for vigorous dialog across the tea desk, though he kept away from consuming lest it intrude together with his supper of warm-water-and-milk. Hipkins’s daughter Edith remembered these Sundays and commented that for somebody who grew to become well-known for sound, Ellis really had a nasty ear: “Dr. Ellis was tone deaf and couldn’t distinguish between ‘God Save the Queen’ or ‘Rule Britannia!’ Fortunately my father had an unusually delicate ear and as Dr. Ellis arrived at conclusions completely by calculations he would name upon his ‘different self’ in time of hassle with ‘Lend me your ears!’”


From The Dictionary People: The Unsung Heroes Who Created the Oxford English Dictionary by Sarah Ogilvie. Copyright © 2023. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random Home LLC.

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