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Bookmark and Share Paper 1350

Technical Combining Forms in the Third Edition of the OED: Word-Formation in a Historical Dictionary
Jane McCauley
95-104 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


This paper illustrates the process of editing one group of items—initial combining forms in technical registers—for the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED3). It focuses on the challenges presented by this group in terms of the research necessary to revise them and in the presentation of the results of that research within the structure of the dictionary. By their very nature as highly specialized, technical vocabulary, the foreign-language models and etymons for this kind of English word-formation tend not to have received a great deal of coverage in major etymological dictionaries. Particular attention is paid in the first half of the paper to how OED3 editors have gone about researching foreign-language parallels in light of this lack of dictionary evidence. The second half of the paper illustrates how the editorial team decide what can stay subsumed under a combining form entry and what must be allowed to stand alone as a separate headword in its own right. It shows how an attempt is made to distinguish between: words borrowed into English wholesale (in which case treatment as a separate entry is obligatory); formations from naturalized English elements on the model of a foreign-language word; and completely new formations within English. Overall, the paper aims to demonstrate how OED3 has chosen to deal with this specific class of dictionary entry in particular, and, in doing so, illustrates some general principles of the OED revision project.

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 2005 Symposium on New Approaches in English Historical Lexis (HEL-LEX)
edited by R. W. McConchie, Olga Timofeeva, Heli Tissari, and Tanja Säily
Table of contents
Printed edition: $210.00