Tuesday, 17th February 2015

by Joshua Gaskell

The OED contains six hundred thousand words, yet some of its definitional constructions appear in just a few entries. I record here some of the uses of these curious and seldom-seen formulæ.

1. Avoided by ——:

  • agenda as a singular: “O.E.D. Suppl. (1972) comments: ‘A use now increasingly found but avoided by careful writers.’”
  • coercion (‘Government by force’): ‘As the word has had, in later times, a bad flavour, […] it is now usually avoided by those who approve of the action in question.’
  • female (‘Simply: a woman or girl’): “N.E.D. (1895) notes: ‘now commonly avoided by good writers, exc. with contemptuous implication’.”
  • hopefully (‘It is hoped (that)’): ‘Avoided by many writers.’
  • jape (‘To seduce (a woman); to know carnally’): ‘the verb began to be held impolite or indecent in 16th cent. […], was avoided by polite writers, and soon became obsolete.’
  • often pronounced with medial -t-: ‘seems to have been avoided by careful speakers in the 17th cent.’
  • only (‘Placed away from the word or phrase which it limits, esp. preceding the main verb’): ‘often avoided by careful writers.’
  • scientist: ‘The word was a somewhat controversial coinage […] and was consciously avoided by many in Britain (apparently less so in North America) until at least the late 19th cent.’

2. First used by ——, used when, for whatever reason, the coiner is thought to deserve not only the first quotation but a name-check in the definition itself:

  • adversary culture (Lionel Trilling): ‘an intellectual or academic milieu characterized by its tendency to oppose the prevailing cultural, social, or political mainstream’.
  • Ebonics (Prof. R. L. Williams): ‘African-American English, esp. when considered as a distinct language or dialect’.
  • energy (T. Young): ‘actual, kinetic, or motive energy, i.e. the power of doing work possessed by a moving body by virtue of its motion’.
  • French ’flu (Arthur Koestler): ‘excessive fondness for all things French’.
  • hypergamy (W. Coldstream): ‘the custom which forbids the marriage of a woman into a group of lower standing than her own’.
  • to know a hawk from a handsaw (Shakespeare): ‘to be knowledgeable and competent’.
  • the masses antithesised from the classes (Gladstone): ‘the populace, the ordinary people’.
  • pathetic fallacy (Ruskin): ‘the attribution of human emotion or responses to animals or inanimate things’.

3. Not fully naturalized in English:

  • Americano (Italian/Spanish/Portuguese): ‘a native or inhabitant of the United States’.
  • empirie (post-classical Latin): ‘= empiricism n. (in various senses).’
  • kombucha (Japanese): ‘A type of Japanese tea made with kelp.’
  • renversement (French): ‘The action of reversing or inverting something’.
  • ris de veau (French): ‘A dish of sweetbreads of veal.’
  • Wirt (German): ‘a pub landlord, an innkeeper.’
  • Wirtschaft and Wirtshaus (German): ‘a pub, an inn.’

4. Not used in North America (or N. Amer.):

  • account payee: ‘(written or printed on the face of a crossed cheque) indicating that a cheque is not transferable’.
  • act: ‘To perform the duties of a more senior office or position’.
  • marge: ‘Short for margarine n.’.
  • mark: ‘To keep close to and so hamper (a player in an opposing team).’
  • marked: ‘designating a player to whom an opposing player is keeping close’.
  • mate: ‘Used as a form of address to a person, esp. a man, regarded as an equal.’
  • right the way: ‘all the way through (also down, round, etc.).’
  • right you are!: ‘expressing agreement with something said or assent to an action’.
  • don’t ring us, we’ll ring you: ‘further approaches would be unwelcome or futile’.
  • rugger bugger: ‘An aggressively masculine (young) man who is dedicated to sport (frequently but not exclusively rugby), regarded as being boorish, chauvinistic, and given to rowdy drunken behaviour.’
  • unmarked: ‘not marked or shadowed by a player from the opposing team.’

5. —— has not been verified, noting the concentration of words beginning pha-, perhaps suggesting it is a construction favoured by a particular lexicographer who worked on the pha- tranche:

  • aleis (form of aleys, ‘The bitter fruit of the wild service tree, Sorbus torminalis’): ‘cited by N.E.D. (1884) as a variant reading […] appears to have been taken from a modern edition and has not been verified in any contemporary source.’
  • micrallantoid (‘Characterized by having a small allantois’): ‘the attribution to H. Milne-Edwards […] has not been verified.’
  • microchemistry (‘chemistry applied to the study of microscopic objects’): ‘R. G. Mayne[’s] […] attribution of the word to Döbereiner (presumably J. W. Döbereiner) has not been verified.’
  • oogone (‘The female gametangium of certain algae, fungi, etc.’): ‘H. Cottez […] attributes the earliest attestation of French oogone to G. Thuret (1854), but this has not been verified and is perhaps mistaken.’
  • pank (‘To pant, breathe hard’): ‘Eng. Dial. Dict. s.v. compares Swedish regional panka, pakka to knock, to beat, but this form has not been verified, and a Scandinavian connection appears unlikely for a chiefly Southern English word.’
  • phaeton (in sense ‘The planet Jupiter’): “N.E.D. (1906) comments […] ‘So in French’, but this has not been verified.”
  • phanerogam (‘A plant of the division Phanerogamia’): ‘H. Cottez […] attributes scientific Latin phanerogama to A. v. Haller (1768), but this has not been verified.’
  • phantasiast (in sense ‘A Docetist who held that Christ’s body was only a phantasm, not a material substance’): “N.E.D. (1906) comments […] ‘also called [in Latin] Phantasiodocetae, [in Greek] Φαντασιοδοκηταί’, but this has not been verified.”
  • superorganism (‘a group or association of organisms which behaves in some respect like a single organism’): ‘Reported earlier [than 1878] use by James Hutton has not been verified, though he outlined the concept in 1785’.