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Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

Thesis Topics: Ready-Made



WORDS fascinate. New words spring forth regularly from every aspect of life. They develop in a variety of ways. There is the language of politics, of a trade or profession. We refer to the jargon of sports, of the computer world, of the library profession. Words pass in and out of use. Years pass. A reader notes a word, an expression, in a text and asks, `What does this mean! What is its origin!' Sometimes these queries can be solved, but at other times they seem to defy solving. Thus, Michael Arlen in his novel of the early twenties in England, The Green Hat (1924), referred to a 'Dorothy chair.' What is a Dorothy chair! Where did this term come from! So far, this is an unsolved (for the writer) query.

Words demand documenting. Literary writers dot their works with allusions, names, and terms that earnest students and librarians must puzzle out. So we have the monumental Oxford English Dictionary with its tracking of terms through time, complete with quoted sources documenting the etymology. There are other smaller, more specialized volumes.

This curiosity about words, phrases, and expressions goes back long years. One of the more interesting special journals is the English publication Notes and Queries, which began publishing in 1849. From that point onward until 1947 the Library has the very detailed series indexes which beleaguered reference librarians can consult for odd words, phrases, quotations, and names and, joyfully, find that someone had explained them in that journal. The annual indexes are much less detailed and helpful though there is still an entry for Words and Phrases.

Taking new words as a specific interest, we find this a fertile area of study. The journal American Speech, beginning in 1941, included a column 'Among the New Words.' In 1991 the Cambridge University Press published Fifty Years Among the New Words. A Dictionary of Neologisms, 1941-1991. Edited by John Algeo, the volume reprints the 113 installments of 'Among the New Words' that appeared in those fifty years, and has added an index to them. Moreover, there is an introduction discussing what new words are, how they are found, and including a section on the making of new words: 'Creating, Borrowing, Combining, Shortening, Blending, Shifting, and Source unknown' (pp. 4-19). Another section titled 'The Motives for New Words' (pp. 14-16) is especially interesting and offers to the imaginative student a departure point for an interesting paper.

In the Reference Room is the newly-arrived volume The Oxford Dictionary of New Words. A Popular Guide to Words in the News, compiled by Sara Tulloch and published in 1991 by the Oxford University Press. She writes in the preface that the term acid rain '. . . was first written about in the 1850's and the greenhouse effect was investigated in the late nineteenth century, although it may not have acquired this name until the 1920's . . .' (p. 5). Close by is the Barnhart series: The Barnhart Dictionary of New English Since 1963, published in 1973, The Second Barnhart Dictionary of New English, published in 1980, and The Third Barnhart Dictionary of New English, which appeared in 1990. 1 Supplementing the Barnhart volumes is The Barnhart Dictionary Companion (v. I, 1982+ ), a quarterly in which the words defined have substantial entries. A cumulative index for the years 1982-1985 of the Companion notes (p. vii) that 'The size of the Dictionary Companion has expanded from year to year to the point that it reports more than 1,200 new words, new meanings, and changes in usage in its pages annually....' Awesome! 2

Should one wish to expand his/her knowledge of words still further, there is the journal Verbatim. The Language Quarterly, which the Library has for Volume 3, No. 2 (September 1976) onward. New Hampshire's Richard Lederer, who writes about language, is among the contributors. One can also, if desired, make the acquaintance of Maledicta. The International Journal of Verbal Aggression, which, on its inside front cover, notes that it '... specializes in uncensored studies and collections of "offensive" words and expressions, in all languages. . . .' Maledicta began publishing in 1977.

The numerous ways in which one can come at the study of words offers something to a variety of interests. The materials noted here are but a brief sampling. Maledicta demonstrates how really specialized interests can become. Equally well documented as new words is the examination of place names and personal names. The Library Bulletin treated names in the same issue (April 1968, pp. 82-85) as public opinion polls. Since then the Sealock Bibliography of Place-Name Literature, United States and Canada, now in its third edition, 1982, has been expanded upon. This additional coverage, from 1980-1988, was compiled by Margaret S. and Stephen D. Powell and appears in the journal Names. 3


1. Ed. Clarence L. Barnhart, Sol Steinmetz [and] Robert K. Barnhart (Bronxville, N.Y.: Barnhart/Harper & Row, 1973; Ed. Clarence L. Barnhart, Sol Steinmetz, Robert K. Barnhart (Bronxville, N.Y.: Barnhart Books, 1980); Ed. Robert K. Barnhart, Sol Steinmetz, with Clarence L. Barnhart (Bronx, N.Y.: H. W. Wilson, 1990).

2. For an explanation of this word see The Barnhart Dictionary Companion 4 (Spring-Summer 1985): 6-7, and The Oxford Dictionary of New Words, 21.

3. 38 (March-June 1990): 49-141.