Frank Kermode

On 29 March a large number of lexicographers and other drudges met at Claridge’s to celebrate the publication of the second edition of what was once the New English Dictionary on Historical Principles.[*] The occasion was properly festive, indeed a super-bash for the super-book. Before lunch the men who put it together in only five years told us how they did it. A wizard from IBM said how thrilled they were to have made the whole thing possible by supplying the computer, the computer know-how – and a lot of computer-generated money. Representing the constituency of the users, Malcolm Bradbury, gracefully grateful on behalf of the writing profession for so writer-friendly a dictionary, offered some innocent jests about bazooms – the last word actually defined in Volume One (A-Bazouki), though, as various persons complained from the floor, lacking any quotation from the Sun. (We were, however, assured by the editors that this paper does get into the great work under page-three girl.) Along the way Bradbury, though seeming very relaxed, dropped a reference to a work of his own, and also a parapraxis (‘my own mother, Rates of Exchange’) which Christopher Ricks, come all the way from Boston to perform an unjetlagged, nay virtuoso lexical dance before the ark, dexterously picked up and developed in a perfectly smooth improvisation.

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[*] Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, Vols I-XX, prepared by J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner. Oxford, 21,728 pp., £1500, 30 March, 0 19 861186 2.

[†] The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, edited by Stewart Flexner. Random House, second edition, 2478 pp., £55, 23 March, 0 394 50050 4.