Monday, 24th February 2014

by Joshua Gaskell

In his introduction to The King’s English Amis minor writes of Amis major, ‘he did secretly pine for an extra dictionary ‘label’ [in the Concise Oxford Dictionary]: namely, illit., to go with colloq. and derog. and the rest’.

The full-sized OED online doesn’t list illit. among its abbreviations, though it still contains two surviving uses of it: referring to the spelling of suffisance (‘sufficient provision or supply’) in the form suffigance, and to a particular sense of vin rouge:

In joc. or illit. form. Cf. vin blanc n. (In quot., Mil. slang.)

1919 J. Buchan Mr. Standfast viii. 162 A pint and a dram for me. This is better than vongblong and vongrooge..in those estamints.

The suffisance entry dates from 1915, but that of vin rouge was ‘first published 1986’, i.e. in A Supplement to the OED, Volume IV, another new entry in which was structuralism. I wonder which lexicographer, in the Age of Theory, got away with such a judgemental proscription as illit. Could it have been the dance of a moonlight king?

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