Whanganui-born Robert Burchfield, who died in 2004, had been secretly deleting thousands of words for years because he didn’t approve of their foreign origins.
He would blame previous editors when people realised words had gone missing, reports Stuff.co.nz
The deception was uncovered by Sarah Ogilvie, a linguist, lexicographer and former editor on the OED, who reveals them in a new book, Words of the World.
Burchfield produced four OED supplements between 1972 and 1986, which Ogilve compared with a supplement in 1933. She found that he had deleted 17 per cent of the “loanwords” and world English words that the earlier supplement had included. There were 45 per cent less foreign words than Burchfield’s version.
Examples of Burchfield’s deleted words include balisaur, an Indian badger-like animal; the American English wake-up, a golden-winged woodpecker; boviander, the name in British Guyana for a person of mixed race living on the river banks and danchi, a Bengali shrub.
The OED is now re-evaluating the deleted words.
“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.
“He said he opened up the dictionary, and put in swearwords for the first time. The swearwords claim is true. In that sense he was the first to bring the dictionary into the 21st century.”
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