Monday, 3 February 2020

Morris in the OED

Ah, so now I know how many William Morris words are cited in the original Oxford English Dictionary, without the later Supplements: 1,359 words in 1,522 quotations.  But is that good or bad?  Is that an impressive tally, or is it not?  Well, a comparison with other Victorian writers reveals that he has fewer OED words than Charles Dickens (5,553 words in 7,512 quotations), John Ruskin (2,879 in 3,231) or George Eliot (2,430 in 2,618).  But he has more than Thomas Hardy (1,111 in 1,129), Matthew Arnold (1,064 in 1,139), Charlotte Brontë (807 in 840) or Dante Gabriel Rossetti (350 in 356).

Of course, such arithmetical tallies tell us very little about what it means, qualitatively speaking, that an author should be cited in the OED in this way.  For a splendid example of how such a philological analysis might be conducted, I refer you to Dennis Taylor’s Hardy’s Literary Language and Victorian Philology (1993), which is where I got that Morris figure from in the first place.  We’ve had useful analyses of Morris’s literary language here and there (particularly by Norman Talbot), but we could certainly do with a study of it as subtle and comprehensive as Taylor’s of Thomas Hardy’s.


Geoff said...

Not fewer citings than Hardy!

Tony Pinkney said...

Thanks for the eagle-eyed correction - have adjusted my text accordingly!

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