Lexicography: An Introduction

By Howard Jackson | Go to book overview

1

Words

1.1What is a word?

You take a dictionary off the shelf, or access a dictionary on your computer, and open it because you want to look up a ‘word’. Dictionaries are the repositories of words. Words are arranged in dictionaries in alphabetical order, and as you look down the column in a print dictionary or the list in an electronic dictionary, you are reading a list of words. Or are you? Here is the list of the 25 ‘headwords’ between want and wardrobe in COD10 (i.e. Concise Oxford Dictionary, tenth edition: see ‘Dictionaries cited’, p. ix):

want, wanting, wanton, wapentake, wapiti, War., war, waratah, war baby, warble1, warble2, warble fly, warbler, warby, war chest, war crime, war cry, ward, -ward, war dance, warden, warder, ward heeler, ward of court, wardrobe.

A number of items in this list do not quite match our usual concept of what constitutes a word, which is - I suggest - ‘a sequence of letters bounded by spaces’. Indeed, only 15 of the 25 items could be described in this way. Two of the remaining items are less than a full word: the abbreviation War. (for Warwickshire), and the suffix -ward (used to form words like backward, skyward - see Chapter 2). The other eight items all consist of more than one ‘word’: seven of them have just two words, and one has three (ward of court). You will also have noticed that one word (warble) is entered twice. So, just what is a ‘word’?

The word before want in the COD10 list is wannabe. Is that a word, or is it three (want to be)? In our usual concept of a word, it is one, because it is a sequence of letters bounded by spaces. This conception of words comes, of course, from writing, the medium in which we are most conscious of words; and dictionaries are based on the written form of the language. In speech, though, words are composed of sounds and syllables, and they follow one another in the flow of speech without spaces or pauses. We make no more pause in saying war baby than we do with wardrobe, even though the first consists of two words in writing and the second of only one.

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Lexicography: An Introduction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Dictionaries Cited ix
  • 1 - Words 1
  • 2 - Facts about Words 10
  • 3 - The Dictionary 21
  • 4 - The Beginnings 31
  • 5 - The New English Dictionary 47
  • 6 - Up to the Present 61
  • 7 - Users and Uses 74
  • 8 - Meaning in Dictionaries 86
  • 9 - Beyond Definition 101
  • 10 - Etymology 117
  • 11 - Dictionaries for Learners 129
  • 12 - Abandoning the Alphabet 145
  • 13 - Compiling Dictionaries 161
  • 14 - Criticising Dictionaries 173
  • References 184
  • Index 189
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