Kiwi accused of culling dictionary entries

By Amelia Wade

The Oxford English Dictionary. Photo / NZ Herald
The Oxford English Dictionary. Photo / NZ Herald

A New Zealander has been accused of covertly deleting thousands of words from the Oxford English Dictionary because of their foreign origins, and then blaming previous editors.

The efforts of Wanganui-born Robert Burchfield, a former editor of the dictionary who died in 2004 aged 81, were uncovered in a new book by linguist, lexicographer and former editor of the OED, Sarah Ogilvie.

During his time as editor, Burchfield produced four supplements between 1972 and 1986.

The Guardian reported that Ogilvie undertook a "detailed analysis" of Burchfield's work and compared it with the 1933 supplement for her book, Words of the World. She found that Burchfield had deleted 17 per cent of the "loanwords" from other languages and world English words.

Examples of Burchfield's deleted words include balisaur, an Indian badger-like animal; the American English wake-up, a golden-winged woodpecker; boviander, the name in British Guyana for a person of mixed race living on the river banks; and danchi, a Bengali shrub.

The OED told the Guardian that they were now re-evaluating words expunged by Burchfield.

Ogilvie called Burchfield's actions "shocking".

"If a word gets into the OED, it never leaves. If it becomes obsolete, we put a dagger beside it, but it never leaves."

Expunged

Examples of words with foreign origins deleted by Burchfield:

* "Shape": A Tibetan councillor.
* "chancer": A verb from American English meaning "to tax".
* "swamp fuchsia": Common name in Australian English for Eremophilia maculata, a species found in Queensland.
Source: Guardian

- NZ Herald

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