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Disgraced by Miscarriage: Four and a Half Centuries of Lexicographical Belligerence

Jack Lynch


This article describes some of the quarrels that have made the history of English dictionaries so fascinating for almost half a millennium. During that time lexicographers have engaged in countless altercations, and they’ve been known to get nasty—their debates are sometimes little more dignified than knife fights. Samuel Johnson himself noted, “Every other authour may aspire to praise; the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach,” and few even manage that; the usual lot of the dictionary writer is “to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect.” The article was delivered as the keynote address on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition “Everything from A to Z: The Edward J. Bloustein Dictionary Collection” (February 6–June 21, 2007). The exhibition featured the historic dictionary collection of Edward J. Bloustein, Rutgers’ seventeenth president. This collection was donated to Rutgers’ Special Collections and University Archives.

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