Journal Article

‘Happy Copiousness’? <i>OED</i>’s Recording of Female Authors of the Eighteenth Century

Charlotte Brewer

in The Review of English Studies

Volume 63, issue 258, pages 86-117
Published in print February 2012 | ISSN: 0034-6551
Published online April 2011 | e-ISSN: 1471-6968 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/res/hgq102
‘Happy Copiousness’? OED’s Recording of Female Authors of the Eighteenth Century

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Eighteenth-century language usage is markedly under-represented in the first two editions of the OED, whose quotations for this period were gathered almost entirely during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This article reviews some of the possible causes, characteristics and consequences of OED’s gap in eighteenth-century documentation and shows that female authors were particularly scanted. The role of quotations in the OED, as the evidential basis for the dictionary, is briefly considered, along with eighteenth-century (and Victorian/Edwardian) views on women and language, and the availability of female-authored texts for quotation by the lexicographers. The article reports sample reading in eighteenth-century female writers (especially Jean Adam, Penelope Aubin and Anna Seward), which shows that OED could easily have supplied its eighteenth-century deficiency from such authors, and that it often favoured distinctive usages in female-authored texts—innovative, eccentric or domestic vocabulary—rather than usage which exemplified linguistic norms (especially in poetry, where Seward’s case is examined). It also discusses revisions to the OED so far conducted in the third (ongoing) edition, and their implications for readers and editors of eighteenth-century texts.

Journal Article.  15005 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Postcolonial Literature) ; Literary Studies (American) ; Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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