Alison Flood has a story in The Guardian reporting on what Sarah Ogilvie, “a linguist, lexicographer and former editor on the OED,” found when she was researching her book on the history of the OED: editor Robert Burchfield “covertly deleted thousands of words because of their foreign origins and bizarrely blamed previous editors.”
She undertook a detailed analysis of Burchfield’s supplement, comparing it with the 1933 supplement by Charles Onions and William Craigie. She found that, far from opening up the OED to foreign linguistic influences, Burchfield had deleted 17% of the “loanwords” and world English words that had been included by Onions, who included 45% more foreign words than Burchfield. […]
“This is really shocking. If a word gets into the OED, it never leaves. If it becomes obsolete, we put a dagger beside it, but it never leaves,” Ogilvie said.
have used to agree with her; “shocking” is le mot juste. (Thanks, peacay!)
Update. Jesse Sheidlower sent me a link to his New Yorker blog post on this topic, and I now realize I should have been more suspicious of a newspaper report on a linguistic topic; it turns out to be much ado about nothing:
Burchfield’s task was not to revise the 1933 Supplement, which would always be available for consultation, but to produce a new work, extending the entire O.E.D., with relevant material included from the 1933 Supplement as necessary. The misunderstanding about the purpose of Burchfield’s Supplements is the source of the current controversy.
Burchfield “absorbed most, but not all” of the 1933 Supplement into his volumes, as the historian of lexicography Charlotte Brewer has written, and this was not “covert” in any way: in the Preface to the first volume of his work, Burchfield wrote specifically of his treatment of the 1933 Supplement, describing his “rejecting only those words, phrases, and senses that seemed transitory or too narrowly restricted in currency.” […] So what Burchfield did was not deletion, it was editing.
Sarah Ogilvie has closely analyzed the patterns of what Burchfield decided to leave out, and concluded that he was less accepting of foreign borrowings than other editors. But omitting some foreignisms doesn’t mean that he didn’t value this category of words. Indeed, he was insistent that the O.E.D. should expand its coverage of international words in English, and, although he did leave out some seemingly minor terms from his Supplement, he added many thousands of more fully researched global entries. Thus, even if it is true that Burchfield omitted foreignisms at a higher rate than other things, this does not mean that he was hostile to these words.
Sheidlower points out that “Ogilvie’s book itself is rather different from how it was portrayed in the Guardian story. It is a sober analysis of the approaches to loanwords taken by various O.E.D. editors, and does not attribute malice to Robert Burchfield’s rational editorial decisions.”
So, as in a bad horror movie, the monster turns out to be nothing but smoke and mirrors, and there was no vandalism at all. Your money will be cheerfully refunded!