One of the highlights of each season for me is the quarterly unveiling of a new range of updated entries in the OED. As of tomorrow they are putting online The curious vocabulary of English between proter and purposive; the essay I just linked begins with the antedating of psychosomatic with a Coleridge citation (1830 S. T. Coleridge Shorter Wks. & Fragm. (1995) II. ii. 1444 Hope and Fear.. have slipt out their collars, and no longer run in couples.. from the Kennel of my Psycho-somatic Ology) and a fascinating excursus on Coleridge (“credited with the first use of over 600 words, often of a rather scholarly or rarefied character”) and Beckett, who “is still credited by the OED with the first recorded use of several other words (athambia, nucleant, panpygoptosis, plutolater, plutomanic, prostisciutto, pugnozzle, vermigrade, wantum, wardee, and zeep).” Also, there’s the exciting news (which I apparently overlooked last time around) that they’re now incorporating changes suggested by users into already updated entries; I’ve never understood their approach of treating online entries as set in stone (which seems to contradict the very nature of the internet), and I’m glad they’re changing their approach. Forward… into the past!


  1. It’s not clear to me why ‘prostisciutto’ merits inclusion in the OED; it was a silly portmanteau coined for B’s early poem ‘Whoroscope’. If we include that, why not comb Finnegans Wake? The ‘nonce-word’ boundary seems very fuzzy.

  2. Conrad, OED also has a policy of not taking a word out once included. The may deprecate it with various explanatory notes, but it will still be in there. Newer standards are more restrictive than they were in the early days and nonce words found since then simply won’t be included.

  3. incorporating changes suggested by users into already updated entries
    Getting something deleted isn’t as exciting as getting something added, but the note added in the June potato update that was based on a [Victorian] misreading of betatas as botatas is being taken out of the online version.

  4. David Marjanović says

    I guess a plutolater is a would-be plutocrat? Someone who prays to Plutus, the god of wealth?

  5. David, OED has for plutolater only this: One who worships wealth, linked to plutolatry (worship of wealth). So not necessarily a would-be plutocrat. (A plutocrat later? Ha ha.)
    I suppose the policy of retaining a word once it is included is sound because occurrence in any edition of the OED – a work central to the “canon” – is itself a notable occurrence warranting a continued record. Perhaps the OED should in some cases explicitly give its own earlier editions as sources.
    Now, I used to know which word it is that Thomas Hardy had used, and later sought to check in the New English Dictionary, only to find that his own use was given as the only authority for the word. (That must have put him off his furmity!) Does anyone recall what that word is?
    A philosopher I know wrote to the OED folk asking that the noun essent be included, since it occurred in one translation of Heidegger’s monograph Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik (for the term Seinend). I thought that was going too far.

  6. David Marjanović says

    Das Seiende? The being (participle, not noun — that which is being)? Was it really necessary to introduce “essent”, or would “that which is”/”all that is” have been enough?

  7. David:
    O my God, I misspelt it. I meant Seiend, not Seinend, which is of course an absurdity. But should this word be capitalised? If it functions as a noun, yes: normally. But I haven’t consulted Heidegger’s texts, and he may work idiosyncratically. Was I right in picking out seiend as opposed to Seiende? I am not a sufficient expert in German grammar, especially the highly modified version of it that Heidegger used. Nor am I an expert on Heidegger. So let me cite Benjamin Waters, on Heidegger’s Sein and Zeit, which may be of general interest concerning translation, and translation of philosophy especially. Not all of this is trivial.

    §9. A Digression on Grammar

    Philosophy is more or less translatable, because fundamentally it is a matter of arguments, and it should be possible to put the same argument in different words. But there is a difficulty we encounter when we translate philosophy texts, and this is basically that the concepts of one language do not match up directly to the concepts of another. In the case of Sein und Zeit we need to be aware that difficulties of this kind confronted the translators in the translation of the text’s most fundamental concept, the concept of Being.

    To put the whole situation as clearly as possible, Heidegger uses in German four forms of this concept: 1. sein, 2. (das) Sein, 3. seiend, 4. (das) Seiende. A literal English translation of these four would have been: 1. to be, 2. being, 3. being, 4. (a) being. In order to conserve the unambiguous distinction between the four that is possible in German, the translators have used: 1. to be, 2. Being, 3. being, 4. (an) entity. Our task is to get the right feeling for what the distinction between these four is.

    1. The first form is what we call the infinitive of the verb, (German: Infinitiv). It functions as a verb, but it is described as in-finite because it is used to explain the concrete doing of some particular agent, but rather the activity in abstraction. Examples in German and English: Es ist zu kalt zu schwimmen. = It is too cold to swim. Es ist schwer zu finden = It is hard to find. Sein oder nicht sein, das ist hier die Frage. = To be, or not to be, that is the question.

    2. The second form is what we call in English the ‘Gerund’ (German: Substantiviertes Infinitiv). It is not really a verb at all, but in fact a verb turned into a noun. Just think of the series: Heidegger’s wife; Heidegger’s hut; Heidegger’s books; Heidegger’s thinking. It points to the activity described by the verb it is made out of, and then presents that activity in such a grammatical form that it can be treated as the subject or object of a sentence. Examples in German and English: Ich hasse das Schwimmen. = I hate swimming. Sein oder Nichtsein, das ist hier die Frage. = Being or not-Being, that is the question.

    3. The present participle (German: Partizip I.) is also used in many cases where it is not a verb either, although it is made from a verb. It is an adjective. Think of the series: the brown dog; the big dog; the hungry dog; the running dog. German and English: Der Hai hat den schimmenden Hund gefressen. = The shark ate the swimming dog. We ordinarily never use this form for the verb ‘to be’ in the way we use it for other verbs. Just think of the series: the running dog; the eating dog; the drooling dog; the being dog.

    4. The last form we could call the substantivized participle (German: Substantiviertes Partizip), and it has no strictly equivalent form in English. Both ancient Greek and German at least have this ability to take the participle, put the definite article in front of it, and thereby make a noun out of it. It is a bit like how in English we could get from ‘running person’ to ‘the runner’ or from ‘thinking person’ to ‘the thinker’, except that in English we cannot get from ‘falling thing’ to ‘the fall-er’—we have to say ‘that which falls’. So: das Rennende = that which runs; das Denkende = that which thinks; das Seiende = that which is.

    The continuation is interesting also, and ties things to Heidegger’s precise uses in Sein and Zeit. Whether all of this is strictly sound in the terms of conventional grammar is open to debate. However that may be, this essent that I mentioned is supposed to translate either seiend or Seiende or both, and to distinguish either of these from Sein. A reasonable thing to try to do, and the conventionally used entity may not in fact do the job, given the nuances of Heidegger’s view of things. And my point was that, be that as it may, asking for an entry for essent in OED is perhaps going a bit far.
    Further reading: a piece on translating Sein und Zeit by Thomas Sheehan.

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