Here are a few more quotes from Lost for Words: The Hidden History of the Oxford English Dictionary (see my first post). On a notorious omission (p. 82):
‘I am afraid it is quite true that the word bondmaid has been omitted from the Dictionary, a most regrettable fact’, [James Murray] was forced to admit in 1901, fourteen years after the publication of the fascicle (Batter-Boz) in which it should have appeared. The admission was prompted by a letter from a perplexed user of the dictionary whose search had in this instance been a fruitless one. Murray’s reply was deeply apologetic. He could offer no ‘rational account’, he wrote. The word was indeed ‘lost’: ‘One can only surmise that the “copy” for it was in some unaccountable way lost either here or at the press’. Either way it was inexplicable and, he added, ‘absolutely unparalleled’.
On affinities with the new theory of evolution (p. 114):
‘We cannot doubt that language is an altering element’, as Darwin himself wrote, musing on the apparent flux of verbal form; ‘we see words invented — we see their origin in names of People — Sound of words … often show traces of origin.’ […] Words in ‘everyday use’, Darwin reflected, ‘have been worn, until, like pebbles on the beach, they have lost every corner and distinctive mark, & hardly a vestige remains to indicate their original form.’
On page 147 Mugglestone quotes some idiot named Robert Heald who insists that there is no such word as twin: “This is erroneous […] ‘Twins’ is a plural noun like scissors, tongs, tweezers … the fact that the word terminates with an ‘s’ is an accident, which in no way warrants its transformation into a bastard singular noun.” This is a perfect example of the kind of ignorant assertions resorted to by proud upholders of invented traditions everywhere. And on page 145, a passage showing Murray’s admirable refusal to judge:
Variability, as in the four different pronunciations which the OED provided for words such as vase or hegemony, had to be seen as a salient part of language, even if its presence disconcerted those who searched in vain for categoric proclamations on ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in usage. The same was true, as Murray assured another anxious correspondent, of the ongoing variation in the pronunciation of either. This ‘picturesque variety’ was discernible even in his own family. ‘I say eether, my children all say īther‘, Murray confirmed — yet this was not an issue of concern. ‘It is a matter of taste’, he asserted. ‘No wise person would wish to impose his or her taste on others’. A normative response was inappropriate. After all, Murray added, variation ‘gives life and variety of language’, proving its vitality and its status as a living and mobile tongue.