Date: Wed, 3 Sep 1997 10:24:49 -0400

From: Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]YALE.EDU

Subject: Re: Safire's WATCHING MY LANGUAGE, HDAS H-O reviews; Hot Dog & the AP

On Tue, 2 Sep 1997, Barry A. Popik wrote:

What's needed is a computer database of the American and/or English

language that's constantly updated and combines the books I've just

mentioned. I want to type in "New York--1920s" and I want a group of words

and phrases that would be used at that place and time.

I want a big computer database! I don't want 1,000 books!

Mr. Popik is correct that there is no database or dictionary bringing

together all that is known about English-language historical lexicography.

Right now, there are the OED, the Middle English Dictionary and other

period dictionaries, regional dictionaries such as the DAE, DA, RHHDAS,

Australian National Dictionary, etc., specialized dictionaries such as E.

J. Nichols, Historical Dictionary of Baseball Terminology, numerous

articles in Notes and Queries and American Speech, etc.

When the 3d edition of the OED is completed, drawing upon the sources just

mentioned, that will be a pretty comprehensive source for those words and

phrases of sufficient importance to be included there. However, that will

still not reflect a major collection of historical-lexicographical

information: the 20 million or so citations in the Merriam-Webster files.

I wrote an article in the journal _Dictionaries_ some years ago suggesting

that Merriam-Webster compile a supplementary historical dictionary based

on the datings in their files earlier than those in the OED. (If anyone

from Merriam-Webster is reading this, I would be interested in editing

such a work!)

Another large source of potential antedatings of OED is the Lexis/Nexis

database. The OED now routinely checks Nexis for new terms, but a

thorough comparison of datings in the OED with the earliest occurrences in

Lexis/Nexis would yield thousands of antedatings. This is true to a

lesser extent of other databases such as JSTOR.

Fred R. Shapiro

Associate Librarian for Public Services and Lecturer in Legal Research

Yale Law School

fred.shapiro[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]