OXFORD HISTORY OF ENGLISH LEXICOGRAPHY.

The good people at Oxford UP sent me a review copy of The Oxford History of English Lexicography; they must have been pretty confident I’d like it, because it’s an expensive two-volume set, and their confidence was not misplaced. This is the best reference history I’ve read in a long time, and I feel confident in saying that if you love dictionaries, you need to set some time aside for reading it (assuming you can convince your library to spring for a copy).
OUP’s description says:

Part one of Volume I explores the early development of glosses and bilingual and multilingual dictionaries and examines their influence on lexicographical methods and ideas. Part two presents a systematic history of monolingual dictionaries of English and includes extensive chapters on Johnson, Webster and his successors in the USA, and the OED. It also contains descriptions of the development of dictionaries of national and regional varieties, and of Old and Middle English, and concludes with an account of the computerization of the OED.
The specialized dictionaries described in Volume II include dictionaries of science, dialects, synonyms, etymology, pronunciation, slang and cant, quotations, phraseology, and personal and place names. This volume also includes an account of the inception and development of dictionaries developed for particular users, especially foreign learners of English.

That gives you an idea of the contents, but the only way to show you its excellences is to quote extensively, which I shall do. (I will doubtless be posting further about the book, because I haven’t even finished the first volume yet.)
From the first chapter, Hans Sauer on medieval glosses and glossaries, we learn that “The first author who named his (Latin) compilation Dictionarius was apparently John of Garland (c.1195-c.1272), but this title was slow to catch on. The large and popular Latin dictionaries from the Middle Ages have titles such as Elementarium (i.e. for beginners), Derivationes (i.e. assembling word-families), Catholicon (i.e. a comprehensive collection), Medulla (i.e. the quintessence), etc. … The term ‘dictionary’ came to be used more frequently in the course of the seventeenth century.” Later he tells us that Johannes Balbus of Genoa was “the first lexicographer to achieve complete alphabetization (from the first to the last letter of each word).” Among the delightful trivia Sauer mentions are the “rare Latin lemma… bradigabo (badrigabo) in Épinal-Erfurt 131, the meaning of which is unknown; it was glossed as felduuop (Ép) / felduus (Erf), the meaning of which is also unknown,” and “the so-called ‘Tremulous Hand of Worcester’”:

In the first half of the thirteenth century, a monk at Worcester with shaky handwriting entered about 50,000 glosses in about twenty OE manuscripts, partly in early Middle English, but mostly in Latin. Apparently, even in the early thirteenth century, English had changed so much that Old English could no lonager be readily understood and had to be explained. Why the Tremulous Hand took such pains to do this is, however, not quite clear.

From Donna M.T.Cr. Farina and George Durman’s chapter on bilingual dictionaries of English and Russian (yes, there’s an entire chapter on bilingual dictionaries of English and Russian!), we find that “The first English translations from Russian began to appear in the sixteenth century. By contrast, the first Russian translation from English, a geometry textbook, did not appear until 1625… The first English grammar to appear in Russian (1766) was published seventy years after the first Russian grammar was printed in England.” The first Russian lexicographer of English was Prokhor Zhdanov (Прохор Жданов), who in 1772 published a bilingual dictionary as an appendix to an English grammar he translated into Russian, and in 1784 published A New Dictionary English and Russian: Novoĭ slovarʹ Angliskoĭ i Rossīĭskoĭ—which can be perused at Google Books! In discussing the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Farina and Durman say:

The number of English teachers, governesses, and nannies increased; this is recorded in memoirs and travelogues published in Russian and in England, as well as in Russian literature. English merchants in Russia were numerous as well. Nikolai Karamzin (1792) tells how in London he encountered a group of English merchants who had gathered to speak Russian in the coffee house of the stock morket; it turned out that they had lived and done business in Saint Petersburg.

They provide detailed comparisons of the entries on particular words in a number of dictionaries (“A comparison of related entries in Grammatin, Banks, and Alexandrov (Table 6.3.3) demonstrates how the Alexandrov dictionary indicates a word’s ‘shades of meaning’”).
In N.E. Osselton’s chapter on “The Early Development of the English Monoligual Dictionary,” we find that Thomas Blount was “the first English compiler to provide etymologies for all (or nearly all) of the words entered,” and JK’s A New English Dictionary (1702) “established once and for all the practice of including the everyday vocabulary of English alongside ‘harder’ words: his letter D begins with a dab, a dab-chick, a dab-fish, to dabble, a dace, and a daffodell, and at the word girl he starts with the common meaning (‘A Girl, or wench’).” Nathan Bailey, in his Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1721), “devotes much attention to etymology, but he recognizes that this might put off readers with no knowledge of languages, and explains that the etymological information on each word has been put within square brackets ‘that they may pass it over without any manner of Trouble or Inconvenience’.” Benjamin Martin in 1749 developed the “useful new lexicographical device… of putting unassimilated foreign words such as legerdemain and pronto into italics.” It’s fascinating to me to watch the features of dictionaries that we take for granted come into existence over the centuries. Having taken us through the early 18th century, Osselton ends on this cliffhanger:

In one way or another, the works of the early lexicographers thus came to incorporate much of what we should expect to find in monolingual English dictionaries today. But pronunciation (beyond mere word-stress), the meaning of compound nouns, set collocations, phrasal verbs, particles, abbreviations, idiomatic expressions (other than proverbs), irregular plurals, all kinds of grammatical information—anything like a systematic coverage of these was to be for future generations of dictionary-makers.

I’ve barely scratched the surface, but further tidbits will have to await future entries [2, 3]. I think I’ve given enough material to suggest why I love this book so much that I’ve had to force myself to set it aside to do the editing by which I earn my bread. The book even smells good—not a minor consideration for me! This is a true triumph of scholarship and another feather in the cap for Oxford (I’m very much looking forward to the chapters on the OED).

Comments

  1. mollymooly says:

    The book even smells good—not a minor consideration for me
    OUP is notorious for impregnating its review copies with the scent of freshly baked bread. Resist!

  2. English, as usual, seems to be better served than most languages. Given that lexicological traditions in other countries (I have in mind Chinese, Japanese, etc.) have very different roots from those of English, it would be very interesting to read a history of lexicography for those languages.
    Chinese, for instance, is completely focused on the use of characters, which means that lexicography through the ages tends to be fixated on the number of characters recorded. Any look at pre-modern dictionaries will show that the “word” (a combination of one or more characters) was pretty much overlooked. I believe it is only under the influence of Western lexicology that modern Chinese dictionaries started to list the meanings of combinations of characters.
    In modern Japanese there is an interesting dichotomy between Chinese-style character dictionaries, which are almost like Chinese dictionaries translated into Japanese, and Western-style dictionaries, which list words ordered according to hiragana. These differences of approach have strongly coloured speakers’ perceptions of their own languages.

  3. dearieme says:

    “the first Russian translation from English, a geometry textbook, did not appear until 1625…”: slightly odd, given that geometry textbooks in English were essentially translations from Greek even into my boyhood.

  4. A.J.P. Iffy says:

    That’s interesting, because Peter the Great wasn’t born until 1672 (his birthday is 9 June, one day after Frank Lloyd Wright’s and mine).

  5. I find the random fact that there were translations from Russian into English in the sixteenth century to be rather astonishing. Folkloric? Related to the Reformation? Anti-Catholic? Do tell.

  6. Good question; the answer is probably in The Russian Theme in English Literature from the Sixteenth Century to 1980, but Google Books won’t let me see it.

  7. geometry textbooks in English were essentially translations from Greek even into my boyhood
    The author / translator (Prince Ivan Elizar’evich Al’bertus-Dalmatskii / Адьбертус Долмацкий) apparently was Greek, though his sources were Latin and English.

  8. Is the work of Giles Fletcher being counted?

  9. A.J.P. Crown says:

    That’s very interesting about Giles Fletcher.
    During the same year, Giles was made chancellor of the diocese of Sussex and in may the mayor.
    Mayor of Sussex?

  10. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Oh, I like The Hakluyt Society. The President is Sir Roderick Impey Murchison &c., &c. and the V.P. is Rear Adm. Drinkwater Bethune, C.B. His Excellency the Count de Lavradio is also on the board.
    Anyone whose name is Drinkwater shouldn’t become a Companion of the Bath.

  11. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Here is a picture of Sir Roderick Impey Murchison.

  12. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Admiral Drinkwater-Buffoon joined the Royal Navy at the age of thirteen, in 1815. He retired fifty-five years later, having gained his C.B. in 1841 for service in the first Anglo-Chinese war.

  13. Heh. I deleted the “mayor” bit. What an awful article; somebody should do a complete rewrite.

  14. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Finally, for MMcM, who speaks Portuguese: Count Lavradio.

  15. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I wasn’t too sure about “chancellor of the diocese of Sussex”, either.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    The text next to the picture of Count Lavradio, apparently his diary, tells the horrible story of the death of the queen of Portugal while giving birth to her 11th child.

  17. J.W. Brewer says:

    re “Diocese of Sussex,” the C. of E. has never had a diocese so named, although the Diocese of Chichester covers much of the same territory as is encompassed for secular purposes in Sussex and might have been meant. (My sense is that it is fairly unusual in England for diocesan and shire boundaries to track each other perfectly for any substantial distance, but I don’t know how close this particular pair comes to being coterminous.)

  18. A.J.P. Crown says:

    How about “chancellor”? What’s that in the context of a diocese?

  19. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Thanks Marie-Lucie. It’s interesting in the context of our other discussion that Count Lavradio writes to Palmerston in French, and receives a reply from Lord Clarendon of the Foreign Office, in English.

  20. Anyone whose name is Wylde shouldn’t become a Groom of the Bedchamber.

    No dia 23 Clarendon comunicou-me que a Rainha havia nomeado para ir a Lisboa Lorde de Tabley, gentil-homem de sua Câmara (Lord in Waiting) e que no mesmo paquete iria também o Coronel Wylde, groom of the Bed-Chamber do Príncipe Alberto.

  21. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I think it’s appropriate. They had about a dozen children.

  22. AJP:(his birthday is 9 June, one day after Frank Lloyd Wright’s and mine)
    Whoa, hold the phone. For some reason I understood that AJP was some six months older than me, so I didn’t get too excited when he kept referring to himself as “not young” and “very, very middle aged”. Now it appears that I am actually older than AJP by two days. I can see we’re going to have to rework the semantics of this age thing.

  23. A.J.P. Crown says:

    That’s interesting, did you know that sandwiched between our births was the Italian general election of 7 June 1953? The Christian Democrats apparently won a plurality in both legislative houses.
    If we had been born on 2 June 1953 we would have got some money, I’ve forgotten the amount, it was the coronation of the Queen. Then on 19 June the Rosenbergs were executed. It was an exciting month.

  24. “Any look at pre-modern dictionaries will show that the “word” (a combination of one or more characters) was pretty much overlooked. ”
    Well, that’s probably because pre-modern dictionaries of Chinese were describing the pre-modern form of the language in which most of the compounds we now call words in Mandarin did not have lexical status. One of the first rules you learn in reading Tang poetry is not toread anything that loos like a modern compound as a compound, because it will not in fact be that compound, just those two characters co-occuring.

  25. Now it appears that I am actually older than AJP by two days
    Fret not, you’re both younger than I am, which means you’re officially young.

  26. Bathrobe, can you expand on your point on colored perceptions? I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at, but it sounds interesting. The current division of dictionary labor seems pretty logical and in-line with the realities of Japanese to me.

  27. marie-lucie says:

    o Coronel Wylde, groom of the Bed-Chamber do Príncipe Alberto.
    - I think it’s appropriate. They had about a dozen children.
    When the queen of Portugal died, Queen Victoria sent two envoys, one of whom was “groom of the Bed-Chamber” to Prince Albert. her husband. They were there to visit the king, not the dead queen.
    The queen who died was having her 11th child, a very difficult birth after ten which had been easier. Victoria and Albert, fortunately, stopped at nine children, otherwise Victoria might have died in childbirth too. Life was awfully hard on women in those days, even the highest placed ones. The Indian queen for whom the Taj Mahal was built died having her 14th child.

  28. Fret not, you’re both younger than I am
    I don’t think this counts. Checking one of the few photos of Hat that is out there in the public, I would say that although he looks a bit scruffy, if the stated date is accurate, Hat’s state of preservation is so remarkable that in another era he would be suspected of having a pact with the Evil One.

  29. John Emerson says:

    I LOVE the Hakluyt Society. I own 6+ of their books, and I’d own 10-20 more if I could afford them.

  30. komfo,amonan says:

    George III’s queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz had 15 children & died at a ripe old age. (My great-grandmother, not a queen, rather a sharecropper, had 14 children & died at a ripe, slightly older age.)
    Donna M.T.Cr. Farina: Hold the phone. No one else found this weird? Why the “Cr.”? Certainly one sees Russians referred to as “Ya. Smirnov” or whatever, for the obvious reasons. But that’s not akin to what’s going on here. Otherwise, I’m imagining a distinction between her and a Donna M.T.Cl. Farina or something. Seriously, what is going on there?

  31. I don’t have much time to elaborate at the moment, but:
    It’s clear that the Chinese obsession with single characters reflects (and is maybe responsible for) a low consciousness of the word in Chinese, taking into account, of course, Jim’s comment about the monosyllabic nature of earlier stages of Chinese. The writing system in effect “freezes” native speaker perceptions of the language in an earlier diachronic state.
    The Japanese situation is also, as Matt says, in line with the realities of the language. That is, the complexity of the language (writing and vocabulary) is reflected in the split personality of its dictionaries. Kanwa jiten are a very strange beast. They are neither fully a dictionary of Chinese, nor fully a dictionary of Japanese. They are something in between. They list words and allusions from the Chinese classics, words from modern Chinese, and Chinese character compounds from modern Japanese. If they did the same thing with English, you would get an English language dictionary (English headwords), but with all the explanations in Japanese, explanations of archaic English meanings, some note of meanings as they have evolved in contemporary English, and also “Japlish” usages. It seems to me to illustrate the nature of the Chinese-character script as an “alien” script that has been adapted and accepted into Japanese, but without ever severing its roots with Chinese. This is nothing like a modern English-language dictionary, which purports to be quite “democratic”, not discriminating against any words once they have been naturalised into English, and noting “resident aliens” (not fully naturalised expressions) in terms of the way they function within the English language — their original meaning is usually given in an etymological sense, not as something that is still alive in a linguistic sense. English is taken as primary; foreign language origins as secondary. This seems to me to be somewhat different from the nature of the Kanwa jiten, which still in some sense takes the original Chinese as primary.
    Modern kokugo jiten, on the other hand, are equivalent to English-language dictionaries. That is, words are listed “democratically” according to their pronunciation, with the meaning given in Japanese, not in terms of classical Chinese.
    So I agree, the Japanese lexographic situation does in some way represent the historical and linguistic situation. Which is why it is so interesting, of course.
    Must run!

  32. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I hope you’re not going out dressed like that.

  33. As a further note on this, perhaps only tangentially related, it is interesting that the Chinese Wikipedia article on 机械 (machine), in addition to the introductory note tracing 机械 back to Greek mechine and Latin mecina, has a rather long section on the concept and etymology of 机械 in Chinese, replete with quotes from the Chinese classics (although the section is flagged as “original research”). Maybe I am stretching the point, but the idea of reaching back to very early uses and meanings of Chinese characters in order to explain a word that was originally coined (or pressed into use) as the equivalent of an English one seems to me to typify a clear tendency in the way Chinese apprehend words and their meanings. This is not, I might suggest, unrelated to the general Chinese approach to lexicology, with its historical emphasis on the Chinese character and its usage within the classical tradition.
    Japanese Wikipedia, on the other hand, mentions in the definition that 機械 was created during the Meiji era as an equivalent to English “machine” — no Chinese classical allusions. (It also notes that the same sense was earlier conveyed by the term カラクリ, as a pre-Meiji, pre-Western inundation term with the same meaning as 機械.)
    These are just idle musings, but I think that this is all the kind of stuff you might include in a history of Chinese or Japanese lexicography :)

  34. Marvelous, thank you! I have no argument with your summary. Re it coloring speakers’ perceptions of their own language, I would characterize it as more of a feedback loop. The earliest Chinese-character dictionaries in Japan were explicitly for dealing with Chinese–this was back when educated Japanese men (and some women) were all expected to read, write, and speak it. These have gotten more convenient and picked up more Japan-centric information (ateji, names, etc.) over the years, but they’re still basically designed for this purpose. The fact that all children are still forced to study a bit of classical Chinese in school helps perpetuate this. So it isn’t so much a representation of “Chinese as an alien _script_” as “classical Chinese _language_ as a mistletoe-language on the tree of Japanese”, I would say.
    Put another way, I don’t think that most Japanese folks feel that kanji are foreign or alien, not even compared to kana– but if you show them a two-kanji compound that exists in Japanesee, and say “yes, actually this is to be read as classical Chinese, verb-noun”, the two characters will immediately pop into the foreign zone, like an optical illusion of a cube/cube-shaped hollow.

  35. Bathrobe and Matt, thanks very much for your enlightening comments!
    the Chinese Wikipedia article on 机械 (machine), in addition to the introductory note tracing 机械 back to Greek mechine and Latin mecina
    Here‘s the Chinese Wikipedia article; somebody should fix the references to “Greek mechine and Latin mecina,” which should be Greek mēchanē (or, better, mēkhanē) and Latin machina. I don’t even know which is the Edit tab.

  36. Donna M.T.Cr. Farina: Hold the phone. No one else found this weird? Why the “Cr.”?
    That is odd, isn’t it? In the “Notes on Contributors” she’s simply Donna Farina; googling, I find her as Donna M. Farina and Donna M.T.C. Farina.
    Aha, in a Dictionary Society memorial tribute to “Ladislav Zgusta, DSNA Founding Member, 1924 – 2007,” we find “Below are several accounts of his life and work, beginning with the personal reminiscences of Donna Crispissima Farina, a close friend and colleague.” So now we know what the Cr. stands for, if not why it’s abbreviated that way. (Interestingly, that’s the only place on the internet where the phrase “Donna Crispissima” occurs, though that will now change.)

  37. marie-lucie says:

    George III’s queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz had 15 children & died at a ripe old age. (My great-grandmother, not a queen, rather a sharecropper, had 14 children & died at a ripe, slightly older age.)
    Sure, such women were exceptionally strong, but many other women died even with their first child, or giving birth to their last child, like the queen of Portugal.

  38. John Emerson says:

    In Don Quixote, as I remember, the cognates of “machine” and “engine” (and “ingenuity”, I think) all seem to connote / denote something like “trap” or “trick”. (Don’t know about the Greek or Latin). The root Chinese words for machines seem more to mean “trigger” or “pivot” — something that makes possible to do a lot of work with the expenditure of a small amount of energy.
    I had all this worked out but lost my notes.
    A Chinese word once said “English words don’t have meanings” — i.e., English writing is phonetic (or pretends to be).
    A JApanese science-PhD friend wrote his father with minimal use of kanji, and was rebuked for that. Seemingly the syllabic and ideographic parts of the writing system define two levels of discourse, or even two metaphysical realms — the earthy-lowly-common and the refined-civilized-superior, or something like that.

  39. “Maybe I am stretching the point, but the idea of reaching back to very early uses and meanings of Chinese characters in order to explain a word that was originally coined (or pressed into use) as the equivalent of an English one seems to me to typify a clear tendency in the way Chinese apprehend words and their meanings. ”
    Amen.
    “Japanese Wikipedia, on the other hand, mentions in the definition that 機械 was created during the Meiji era as an equivalent to English “machine” — no Chinese classical allusions. ”
    Well, there’s the problem right there. Who is going to admit that ji1qi1 was coined by the Ocean Pygmies? Quick, go fangle up a Chinese etymology, as classical as possible, and if that won’t do and you must admit to foreign influence, let it be some foreigners we aren’t ashamed of copying.

  40. I’m an Ocean Pygmy and proud of it.

  41. “I’m an Ocean Pygmy and proud of it.”
    Well, you should be. You are one of the proud, the few, the favored few whose ethnicity is not written with an animal radical.
    To the credit of the Japanese they didn’t slavishly adopt that sideways insult as their ethnonym, as I understand.

  42. Does someone mind explaining what on earth (or sea) is an ocean pygmy? This doesn’t google at all. And “animal radicals”? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)?

  43. Christophe Strobbe says:

    Here’s the Chinese Wikipedia article; somebody should fix the references to “Greek mechine and Latin mecina,” which should be Greek mēchanē (or, better, mēkhanē) and Latin machina. I don’t even know which is the Edit tab.

    When you use Firefox 3 with the Chinese Perapera-kun add-on, it’s easy to find out.
    I think those edits have already been made (marked as 小) by 28481k.

  44. I just love the OUP to pieces for sending you that book, and look forward to future posts. And yes, the smell!

  45. Nijma,
    Ocean Pygmy is a translation for a term the Chinese applied to the Japanese. Since it applied to the Japanese, it developed two senes, “pygmy” and “pirate”. There have been times when Japanese pirates were prettyactive off the southern coast.
    Animal radical: The majority of Chinese charaters, han4zi4, are written with a chunk that reflects the phonetic value of the word (whenever the han4zi4 developed, which can be as long as 3,500 years ago, so the resemblance can be invisible by now) and then with a chunk that reflects something of the semantic load of the word. Westerners started calling that piece the “radical” back in the 1800s and the term hasn’t really been replaced even though it doesn’t make any particular sense.
    So words that refer to things you do often have a little attenuated picture of a hand to the side, silk for colors naturally, grain for grains and such wood for wooden things and so on.
    Often ethnonyms were written with some phonetic rendering of the group’s name for itself, or someone else’s name for them, with a radical to show that this was a new word, not the word the phonetic rendering was borrowed from. For non-Chinese ethnic group that was generally the radical for words refering to animals, for obvious reasons. Nowadays the animal radical has been quietly dropped from most of these.
    So you can write “PETA” with the word for “fart” – “pi4″ and “da4″ – big, and maybe add an animal radical to pi4.

  46. marie-lucie says:

    Does someone mind explaining what on earth (or sea) is an ocean pygmy? …. And “animal radicals”?
    I am not familiar with these phrases either, or with the Chinese language, but as a guess: “ocean pygmies”, which appears to be an insult, could mean “people as unworthy of notice as primitive dwarfs, arriving from the ocean”, and “animal radicals” may refer to some feature of the writing system used to distinguish apparent homonyms – in this case “animal” is used instead of “human”, yet another insult.
    These are almost shots in the dark, and I am ready to be corrected.

  47. marie-lucie says:

    I didn’t know Jim was dealing with Nijma’s query. Thanks, Jim.

  48. (Although not actually Japanese, I was born in Japan.)

  49. Ah, thank you. “Radicals” makes perfect sense to me though. It comes from the same place as “radish” and means “root”. Political or religious radicals often claim the status quo has strayed from the correct path and they are returning to a basic, more pure “root” teaching.

  50. J. W. Brewer says:

    Re radical/radish, members of the Radical Party in France during the Third Republic were supposedly called “radishes” by their critics for being symbolically “red on the outside; white on the inside” (largely because they remained non-socialist when socialism became the hip new thing on the Left). It had never previously struck me that this might be a learned etymological pun in addition to the visual image.

  51. Getting back to lexicography, the “Chinese character mould” is actually a very difficult one to break. Most of the Chinese -> foreign language dictionaries that I’ve seen adopt characters as the basis for listing entries. The ordering of the characters does vary, however. The traditional method is by radical (find the radical, then find the character by counting the remaining number of strokes), but the modern trend on the Mainland is to use alphabetical order (that is, characters are ordered by pronunciation). The only exception I have seen is a Chinese-Japanese dictionary published many years ago — 1960s — by Iwanami. This dictionary took the radical and, I later heard, rather controversial step of listing words alphabetically according to the pinyin spelling. That is, to find the equivalent to 麻烦 (bother, nuisance), you did not look up 麻 and then search for the compound 麻烦, you looked up máfan alphabetically, as you would in an English-language dictionary. The entry then gave both the correct characters and the Japanese equivalents. Although the idea sounds like a good one, the usefulness of the dictionary proved to be rather limited, for several reasons:
    *It was only useful for speech. Obviously it wasn’t good for interpreting written passages, and aspects of Chinese that are dependent on characters or the literary language were not as well covered.
    *The dictionary wasn’t very large, meaning that a lot of vocabulary wasn’t listed. This is the last thing you want in a Chinese dictionary!
    *You had to be totally sure of the pronunciation to look a word up, which, as those who study Chinese will realise, is not so easy as it sounds. Due to dialects and unclear speech, it’s often quite difficult to be sure what the correct pronunciation is. And if you ask, somebody will end up writing the character for you, anyway.
    Dictionaries going the other way, i.e., Japanese to Chinese, virtually always adopt hiragana/katakana as the basis for listing entries, for obvious reasons. A dictionary that adopted a character-based approach wouldn’t get you very far.
    The situation for Chinese-Vietnamese dictionaries is analagous to that of Chinese-Japanese and Chinese-English. But going the other way, the situation is somewhat different. There is at least one Vietnamese-Chinese dictionary that adopts a Chinese-character-like system in its arrangement of entries. The Từ Điển Việt Hán

  52. My extended comment was clipped :)
    The Từ Điển Việt Hán edited by Giáo sư Đinh Gia Khánh

  53. Clipped again! Looks like the letters of the Vietnamese alphabet might be messing up my post.

  54. marie-lucie says:

    JWB: Re radical/radish, members of the Radical Party in France during the Third Republic were supposedly called “radishes” by their critics for being symbolically “red on the outside; white on the inside” … . It had never previously struck me that this might be a learned etymological pun in addition to the visual image.
    It was not a “learned etymological pun”, just an obvious everyday pun likely to come to any speaker’s mind, whether literate or not. The French words are radical/radis: shorten radical to radi (a common way of shortening French words) and you get the pronunciation of radis (the s is silent). Saying or writing les radis is totally ambiguous: les radicaux ‘the radicals’ or les radis ‘the radishes’. The red/white image follows from the pun, and proves appropriate to the alleged political attitudes of the people in question, but the simple pun came first.

  55. marie-lucie says:

    p.s. but it is true that both words derive from the Latin word for ‘root’, radix, radicis. English radish is a borrowing from Old French.

  56. “ocean pygmies”, which appears to be an insult, could mean “people as unworthy of notice as primitive dwarfs, arriving from the ocean”, ”
    You know, Marie Lucie, in this case I think it was just a reference to actual physical stature. Maybe Japanese were taller in former times, but as recently as the 1930s Japanese immigrants in California were sometimes less than 5 ft. tall. males and females. I have since heard that part of the problem was a lack of calcium in the native diet, which hard to believe with a diet so heavy on fish and presumably fish bones.

  57. a lack of calcium in the native diet
    I seem to remember something about a hereditary condition that makes it difficult for many Japanese to digest milk. I also seem to remember something about the untouchable Ainu tribe not having a problem with this.

  58. I have heard somewhere that Chinese are admonished not to put soy sauce on their rice lest they stunt their growth like the Japanese (who do put soy sauce on their rice).

  59. marie-lucie says:

    Jim, the Japanese in question might have been considered as “primitive dwarfs”!
    Nijma: difficult for many Japanese to digest milk
    This is a widespread genetic condition for many Asians and Native Americans whose traditional cultures did not use milk or other dairy products as food. Most people in the West with that condition would have died very young and not transmitted their genes. The Ainus did not have domestic animals except dogs, so they would not have used milk products either.

  60. The current thinking on lactose intolerance seems to be that a genetic mutation in Northern Europeans caused them to be more likely to respond to milk intake after weaning by continuing / resuming lactase production. Even among populations without the mutation, and so tending to lactose intolerance, studies seem to show that environment, that is milk consumption, is more important than genetics. The Ainu report a lower rate of lactose intolerance problems, but a study that just measured found that they actually have lower lactase levels than ethnic Japanese.

  61. Though Christopher Strobbe commended my effort of editing the page, I made a slight oversight on the spelling of machina as mechina, my bad.
    On the issue of Ocean Pygmy: a still current ethnic slur by Chinese to Japanese describes their legs as radish shaped from spending too much time on tatami, compared with (the ideal and relatively) long and slender legs of Chinese by sitting on chairs.

  62. A.J.P. Cho says:

    Maybe Japanese were taller in former times,
    This just reminded me that “In former times” is an expression I’ve heard quite often in Germany and to an extent in Scandinavia, but not nearly as often by a native English speaker. I suspect it is the Germans’ translation for things that might be better translated as “in the old days”, or “in the past”. Something like, “In former times I used to take my washing to the laundromat” — there’s nothing exactly wrong with it, I’ve just noticed that when it’s used by Germans it sometimes doesn’t quite sound right. It is a perfectly acceptable English phrase, of course.

  63. A.J.P. Oh says:

    I use ‘ocean pygmy’ to mean Icelanders, but that may be a quite local thing.

  64. Actually, 大根足 (daikon-ashi = ‘radish legs’) is used by the Japanese themselves, generally in a self-deprecating sense. Chinese women are usually praised as スタイルがいい (sutairu ga ii =’have a nice figure’).

  65. In former times I used to take my washing to the laundromat

    JJ, I guess the kind of sentence the Germans had in mind when they said that was Damals/Früher habe ich meine Wäsche zum Waschsalon gebracht.
    The slightly-off quality of “in former times” in Germglish is something they learn in school, I imagine. They learn that “Then I took my washing …” and “Earlier I took my washing …” don’t mean what the above German sentence means. Possibly they were not taught that the “I used to take ..” idiom will suffice by itself here. An extra “back then” or “when I was young and green” is optional in idiomatic English.
    There is a common tendency to think individual words are individually significant. That’s why a German will think that “Damals/früher”, a significant adverb in the German sentence, is missing in “I used to take ..”, so something like “In former times” needs to added back in.

  66. A.J.P. The preferred term. says:

    Grumbly Stu, you probably don’t speak much English with Germans in Germany, but have you ever noticed them using this expression?
    I must admit it’s mostly one person I know in Hamburg who says it all the time, but it wasn’t just him, and I think you’re right that it’s something they’re taught at school.

  67. marie-lucie says:

    It seems to me that “in former times” suggests “a very long time ago”: “in former times there were no laundromats or washing machines, women would do the wash in the local fountain”, or such. Even without going that far, “in former times” used by an old person about their youth suggests that there has been a radical, irrevocable change in society since then, such as “before the Russian revolution”. One’s younger days 10 or 20 years ago do not qualify as “in former times” for me except if one’s circumstances have changed very drastically in the meantime (eg for refugees).

  68. I remember that Germans used to say things like that 20-30 years ago, in former times. Nowadays, different slightly-off expressions are in currency.
    One all-time favorite is “I have / don’t have the possibility to …”. I have never figured out why individual Germans find it so hard simply to say “I can / can’t …”. The general explanation, of course, is that the German Geist revels in tumescent diction.

  69. “The general explanation, of course, is that the German Geist revels in tumescent diction.”
    Davids Medienkritik had a discussion on that cultural diffenrece a couple of years ago.
    “Actually, 大根足 (daikon-ashi = ‘radish legs’) is used by the Japanese themselves, generally in a self-deprecating sense. ”
    Whereas the Chinese call the luo1bo tou2 – ‘radish heads’. And it is slightly deprecating.
    “One’s younger days 10 or 20 years ago do not qualify as “in former times” for me except if one’s circumstances have changed very drastically in the meantime (eg for refugees). ”
    That is my sense of the experession, and the one I used it in. The days when Japanese were 5 ft or less are another age of Middle Earth.

  70. dearieme says:

    “Donna Crispissima”: salt and vinegar or cheese and onion?
    hywl fawr

  71. A.J.P. Smoke Kools. says:

    That’s right, but this guy would say things like “In former times we would charge our pencil sharpers to the office”.

  72. He may have just latched onto “in former times” because it has the sonorous rotundity of a politician’s cliché. Gymnasium-educated German teenagers tend to talk that way. I call it Abiturientendeutsch.
    To be sure, average Germans don’t tumesce in everday conversation. Except for the slang word “geil”, which means horny but also awesome, cool etc. [doesn't "cool" date me!] Its root meaning is swollen, as in proud flesh (an elevated, distended scar). Which reminds me that I want to reread The Way of All Flesh.

  73. A.J.P. Smoking is bad for you.. says:

    I’d forgotten that one. Every time this other guy would take a look at what we were designing he’d say “geil!”. And every time we’d design a very long building he’d say “Lange läuft”, length runs, which is some sort of sailing term for the longer the better.

  74. A.J.P. Smoking is bad for you. says:

    Cool is not dated, Grumbly Stu. It is still in general slang circulation (I think).

  75. Yes, for some reason “cool” has stuck around for decades.

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