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XIV. REQUIREMENTS IN A LEXICOGRAPHER OF THE ENGLISH
To examine a quarto dictionary with thoroughness sufficient to gauge its merits is an undertaking of no inconsiderable magnitude and daring.
It involves far more than that knowledge of excellence and defects, which is gained by a cursory turning of leaves, or by casual reference. It is achieved in no such excitement of mind as that which sets periods ablaze, and electrifies audiences. Rather, all such frenzy precludes any just judgment; is utterly inconsistent with that careful comparison and close discrimination which only can avail here. Neither does eminence in any single department, or even in several distinct fields of knowledge, entitle a man to stand as a judge in lexicography without question of his claims. Has one man in a hundred thousand compared the definitions of twenty important words with the usage of standard authors in the successive periods of our literature ? Does one man in a hundred thousand seek to gain an orderly knowledge of the entire usage of words that have been variously applied ? How many ever think of the relations of different significations ? How many have any distinct notion of the principles that are to determine the reception or the rejection of words? Certainly not all of the dictionary-makers themselves. How can men judge of a dictionary when they have no conception of its true domain? As is a barbarian's estimate of the comforts of life, so is most men's conception of what a dictionary should be. As you civil. ize the barbarian, what he knew not of yesterday he finds indispensable to-day; as the reader and the student attain more discrimination, the helps that resolve their doubts to-day will fail them to-morrow, when they shall have nicer points to settle, and their interest shall be aroused to attain to fuller and more perfect knowledge.
The absolute value of a dictionary is in proportion to the accuracy and fulness with which it exhibits the forms and uses of words for the entire period of their constituting an integral part of the language.
* An American Dictionary of the English Language. By Noah Webster, LL.D. Revised and Enlarged by Chauncey A. Goodrich, Professor in Yale College.
No. 8. [VOL. II.) 11
But, for ordinary purposes, the value of a dictionary of a living tongue is measured by the truthfulness with which it represents, in the garb that usage approves, all that is now vital, together with such dead words and cast-off forms as are embalmed in what the present generation agree to call Standard Literature. In regard to the forms of words or orthography, our dictionaries have already approximated very nearly to perfection. Many innovations have found almost universal favor; and recent editions of those very books in which others were proposed, have receded in great part; so that the remaining difference is comparatively insignificant; each, with few exceptions, accurately representing present usage, as well in cases of diversity as of uniformity. This matter has been agitated so long, and sifted so thoroughly, that it is not worth while now to state more than the result. And there will be little cause for change hereafter. The orthography of the language is, in the main, established for all coming time. In regard to the origin, and, more especially, the use of words, much has been done ; but how much remains to be done! The most efficient laborer in the sphere of definition has been Johnson; and, since him, Webster has added the most abundant contributions; and Richardson has gathered a mass of citations of inestimable value to the lexicographer who shall know how to use them.
The qualifications which he must possess who shall prepare a dictionary to satisfy the coming age, such a work as even now would be appreciated to a considerable extent, and cause existing dictionaries to be stowed away as worthless rubbish, can be expressed in a single sentence. The English Lexicographer must have grown up into the language, have become identified with it, must be discriminatingly cognizant of his intellections, and able to present them accurately and fully in their natural order. His heart must beat sympathetically, whenever he meets idiomatic ease and simple grace, and modest adornment, and purity of diction. He must sensitively recoil, as if violence were done to himself, when he meets uncouth and barbarous terms, or words misapplied, or false rhetoric, or perverse logic. His instant feeling must recognize what belongs to the vital organization of the language, and what it regards as incapable of assimilation, and what in its growth it has cast off, henceforth inert and dead. He must be acquainted with the origin and history of words so far as to be able to trace ordinarily the usages of each to their common base. This implies the knowledge of the etymon, which must be analyzed and traced as far back as more radical significations will shed light even darkly upon it. The usages of words must be arranged orderly, defined distinctly, and illustrated appropriately. Orderly arrangement demands that the most radical signification should be placed first; that, if there are corresponding tropical and metonymical usages, these should follow in order ; that, if there are secondary literal usages, with their subordinate tropes, these should be again grouped in like manner. A plan of notation and a style of printing may be adopted, such that the relations of each definition shall be as obvious as is the local relation of one of the states in a colored map of New England. Distinct definition requires, that, instead of the loose practice of heaping together synonymes, sometimes, too, so remote as to represent a widely different idea, the embodied conception shall be set forth with the utmost exactness of outline, in nothing exceeding, and by nothing falling short. It avails not to say that such nicety of distinction will be neither appreciated nor understood. There are already those who demand nothing less; those who look for the perfection of what they seek, although they may disregard all definitions but the one that interests them for the moment; and those who might find the definition not wholly intelligible, would, in most cases, still approximate nearer the truth than if they had consulted a more imperfect defi. nition. Appropriate illustration is but examples of use drawn from good authors.
That identification of the language that I have spoken of will be further manifested in marking with its true character every word and usage. The living and the dead, the common and the technical, the elegant and the vulgar, that which is of natural growth and the monstrosities that were coined aptly for the occasion or have been wantonly introduced by whatever names of note, will all be shown in their true character. This may now be derided as an impracticable fancy or an idle dream. It may not be realized this half century, but preparation for an advance is making. The conditions which shall, insure a high degree of success will at length be met: the patience to sit down to a life-long work; the iron diligence; the nice perception, the power to represent accurately and clearly its results; familiarity with English literature from the beginning; the tact to glance over wide and diverse fields of labor, and seize upon whatever can be turned to account; a hearty recognition of the merits of every co-laborer, but the acknowledgment of no man as master; no vain assumption of dictatorship in language, a modest offer only to serve as interpreter.
Dr. Webster's great merits as a lexicographer are cheerfully conceded. Indeed, the American who is not proud of him must be wanting in patriotism. What he accomplished, in spite of difficulties and discouragements, and without philological culture adequate to his task, will ever remain a wonder. But to maintain that he left noth
ing to be done is quite absurd. A review of his dictionary would abundantly show this. An exhibition of its defects and a summary of its errors would startle many a one who consults it with the comfortable persuasion of its infallibility. It would appear, that, whilst on his etymological plan he has reflected a flood of light back upon the dark domain of primary significations, yet his principles were not thoroughly scientific; that he unduly trusted to literal correspondences, and so far neglected historic investigations that in many cases his conclusions are false ; and that in many other cases undue space is occupied with crude speculations. It would be seen, that in a multitude of cases he does not commence with the radical meaning; that in a vastly greater number of cases he neglects any imaginable order of definitions, whether it were to be deduced from the genetical relation of ideas, or the period of their development. Not that herein he is an offender above all other men, for in some of our dictionaries utter confusion reigns; but, in orderly arrangement, Freund's Latin Lexicon is incomparably superior. A thorough examination would show, too, that whilst Webster has corrected many of Johnson's blunders, those remaining are not few; that he, as well as Johnson, is exceedingly prone to attempt a distinction where a difference does not exist, attaching to the word defined an element not belonging thereto, but rather expressed by connected words; that less frequently he overlooks a distinction; that he sadly fails in drawing accurate distinctions, throwing back the inquirer upon his own reflections, or, at best, but furnishing aid, in an accumulation of definitions, towards reaching the desired result; and that many usages are quite neg. lected.* But, whilst there was a full exhibition of imperfections, nothing would be detracted from his painfully-earned meed of praise. To the character of a review the present essay lays no claim; but it is not without an equal object, as I hope will appear in the issue. I simply propose to criticize a few pages of the dictionary, only pro
* I have said nothing above of the deficiency or the redundancy of the vocabulary. It was no part of Webster's plan to afford sufficient help to the reader of old books. It seems to me desirable that a first-class dictionary should have in its leading vocabulary those words that in all or in part of their usages belong to the present life of the language, and those only ; that obsolete and dialectic words and variations of form should constitute a second vocabulary ; and words solely technical, a third. Mere Latinisms and barbarisms that never came into established use, and scientific terms, whilst still candidates for adoption, should be rigidly excluded except in those instances where their interpretation is essential to the understanding of some passage in a standard author. of modern words, Webster was industrious in the collection ; and, in discrimination in their admission, compares favorably with other word-gatherers. Some well-authorized words remain to be gleaned, as an occasional fruitless search testifies ; but the aggregate cannot be large. The failure of all (?) the modern dictionaries to introduce diffuseness, which has supplanted the older diffusiveness in its rhetorical sense, is quite as noticeable as the omission of ocean in the first edition of Johnson's dictionary.
ceeding far enough to satisfy the reader that I have not been speaking at random, and to present one or more instances of such faults as I have observed. I know not that it makes any difference what portion I select. By accident I take the commencement of the letter D. I shall notice whatever seems to require amendment.
The first word is Dab, and its first definition, which is credited to Bailey, is, " to strike gently with the hand." It is admitted that the word suggests the use of the hand, and so does to whip, as that also expresses an action hardly possible without hands; but, nevertheless, the specific means is not an element in the signification of the word; for, if so, -as one may dab another with the shovel or the poker (the illustrations but accord with the word), or as one may be dabbed like St. Paul “in the necke" with the “aungell of Sathan, the pricke of the fleshe,” as Sir T. More has it, or, as another was, " in the mouth with a broken sword,”-there would be required as many different definitions as there are different means, an inconvenient number, truly. The definitions, "to slap, to box,” intended to be synonymous, are nearer the mark. — Webster's second definition, borrowed from Johnson, is “to strike gently with some soft or moist substance.” Here again the means is added to the signification of the word. Dab has really but one meaning, which is, to strike suddenly; but, as it is applied to any degree of violence down to a mere touch, there should be added the qualification, “either violently or softly,” or perhaps a second definition might be given, “to tap gently."
The noun Dab is defined, first, “a gentle blow with the hand.” Again the means is added, which does not belong to the word. Neither is it necessarily a gentle blow. It should be "a quick or sudden blow.”—The second definition is “a small lump of anything, soft or moist.” Then, if a dab of dough becomes dry and hard, of course it is no longer a dab. The definition would be better, a small lump: properly, one formed by dipping or moistening."--The third definition, "something moist or slimy thrown on one,” is superfluous. It was no less a dab before it was thrown.
I need not repeat the same criticisms on “ Dabbed, struck with something moist,” and “ Dabling, striking gently with something moiet," but will only say it is hard to see why the qualification “gently” is introduced in the one case, and not in the other.
Webster's etymology of Dabble is “ Heb. tabal, or from the root of dip, Gothic daupyan, Belgic dabben or dabbelen. See Dip.” There is not absolute error here, but the precise fact is that dabble is a diminutive of dab, corresponding with the Dutch dabbelen. The Maeso-Gothic daupjan, in the Gothic languages the oldest known