Joyce's Words‎ > ‎

OED

Comings and goings: Joyce’s words in the
Oxford English Dictionary

 

Joyce Quotations                   Joyce First Uses

2,443                                    445

(Dec 2012: 2,367)                                                         (Dec 2012: 464)

 

The Oxford English Dictionary is currently undergoing its first comprehensive revision since it was originally published between 1884 and 1928. Joyce was not cited in the OED until the days of its second Supplement (1972-86). The Second Edition of the OED (1989) included 1,709 quotations from Joyce’s works, of which 548 were “first usages” - the earliest occurrences found to date of a particular word, meaning, or expression.

     Work towards the Third Edition of the OED (2000-; now around 40% complete) changes the profile of Joyce in the dictionary, especially as his quotations are sometimes displaced by new first usages found in other, earlier sources. In a recent article published in Ronan Crowley and Dirk Van Hulle’s New Quotatoes: Joycean Exogenesis in the Digital Age, I investigated which of those 548 first usages were superseded by the time of its December 2012 quarterly update.1 The answer was 84: on 84 occurrences the OED editors had found material that predated Joyce, leaving him as the first user of only 464 terms. At the same time, the number of quotations from Joyce’s work used generally by the dictionary increased from 1,709 in at the time of the Second Edition of the OED (1989) to 2,367 in December 2012.

     The ability of the dictionary editors to search instantaneously through enormous swaths of online historical text helps to explain why Joyce’s first-use count is dropping. But another factor is Joyce’s method of composition: whereas he was previously regarded as extraordinarily innovative lexically (even in the years before Finnegans Wake), there is now a widespread appreciation that he actively sought out the ephemeral language of his time – and particularly of Dublin in his time – copying excerpts into his notebooks and assimilating these into his works. It is not surprising, then, that the OED’s editors are now able to rediscover for themselves some of this hidden layer of language into which Joyce tapped. The result may well be that Joyce’s first-use count is – for reasons such as this – dropping faster than is that of many other high-profile writers of the past.

     The types of terms from Joyce’s writing which lose their first place tell us about the areas we should look in search of Joyce’s real lexical creativity.

     In this article I plan to survey the comings and goings of Joyce’s quotations and first usages as further quarterly instalments of the OED are published, and as the dynamic database is updated generally. The first investigation is a catch-up analysis, and covers OED updates between December 2012 and March 2016.

 

OED: from December 2012 to March 2016

These are terms for which the OED once cited Joyce for the first recorded example, or where Joyce is now the first example of a term newly added to the dictionary:


Claddagh (noun): a symbol of love and loyalty, consisting of two hands clasping a crowned heart (WAS 1922 NOW 1883)                                                                    

Ulysses (1922): He gave me that clumsy Claddagh ring for luck.

Now first recorded in the Belfast News-letter (newspaper) of 1883

Comment: this word was not included in the Second Edition of the OED, but crept online in March 2003 with Joyce as the earliest reference. However, the availability of new online historical texts meant that the OED could incorporate new findings from its crowdsourcing readers, including this quotation from Belfast.


conscriptive (adjective): relating to or having conscription (WAS 1906 NOW 1804)

Letters (1906): I don't see how that saves them from the logical conclusion of revolution in a conscriptive country like this.

Now first recorded in John Bigland’s Letters on the modern history and political aspect of Europe (London: 1804)

Comment: a significant predating of a term which is not common but could easily be constructed from regular English word-formation elements. Joyce was not the first to apply the word to countries or nations who advocated or required military conscription.


cunt (noun): somewhere or something that is annoying or unpleasant (NEW ENTRY: FIRST USE 1922 ULYSSES)

Ulysses (1922): The grey sunken cunt of the world.

This entry was added to the OED Online in March 2014.

Comment: slang lexicographer Eric Partridge noted in 1931 that this term was popular with soldiers in the First World War. Joyce’s role here was to publish the expression – this sort of taboo vocabulary could not be published in Britain in the 1920s because of the Obscene Publications Act (amongst other things). Joyce of course published in Paris, where, despite legislation, he could hope for a more tolerant reception.


eyeslit (noun): a narrow slit formed by the lids around the eye (WAS 1922 NOW 1768)

Ulysses (1922): He watched the dark eyeslits narrowing with greed.

Now first recorded in Benjamin Noble’s Geodaesia Hibernica, or an essay on practical surveying (published in Dublin: 1768)

Comment: the size of the antedating suggests a compound that is easily reformable, even if not in regular use. It was presumably not a term that Joyce considered that he had coined. The common idea that narrowed eyes can appear like slits lends itself to the creation of eyeslit.


footless (adjective): blind drunk (NEW ENTRY: FIRST USE 1922 ULYSSES)

Ulysses (1922): The lout was [...] going home footless in a cab five times in the week after drinking his way through all the samples in the bloody establishment.

Comment: the OED labels this use as “Irish English”, and the other quotations supplied date from the 1960s and later. Joyce is again a touchstone for informal Irish slang, which he did not invent but passes through to a wider public.


maa (interjection): representing the sound of a sheep or a lamb bleating (WAS 1922 NOW 1919)

Ulysses (1922): All are washed in the blood of the lamb, bawling maaaaaa.

Currently first recorded in Sydney Reid’s Josey and the chipmunk (New York: 1919)

Comment: we have associated the letters maa with the sound of bleating lambs since at least the eighteenth century (when we find the verb to maa). The “functional shift” of the word from verb to interjection is unproblematic, and has occurred before and after with many other onomatopoeic animal sounds.


Mizrach (noun): the East, the Orient (WAS 1922 NOW 1882)

Ulysses (1922): His gaze turned in the direction of Mizrach, the east.

Now first recorded in Leopold Kompert’s Scenes from the Ghetto – studies of Jewish life (1882)

Comment: we should not see this as a term Joyce necessarily found by reading Jewish literature to help understand the ethnic background of Dublin of 1904, or as source colour for what many regard as Bloom’s Jewish origin. It was a term from general Jewish culture which he could have encountered in any of numerous ways.


on (preposition): in comparison with (someone else) (NEW ENTRY: WAS 1914 NOW 1911)

1914 Dubliners: She had always had an edge on her, especially whenever there were people listening.

Comment: when this meaning was added to the OED (in June 2004), Joyce was the earliest reference. Since then, earlier material has been uncovered, and the first reference is now from Stewart White’s Rules of the Game (London, 1911).


postconditional (adjective): that follows a conditional state (WAS 1935 NOW 1875)

work in progress (1935): All them fine clauses in Lindley's and Murrey's never braught the participle of a present to a desponent hortatrixy […] from her postconditional future.

Now first recorded in another grammatical context in Edwin Abbott’s How to parse (London: 1875)

Comment: another easily reproducible compound, but apparently one established in linguistic discourse. Abbott’s example is “he should have been helping” – the action is past, but the outcome was conditional on whether “he” helped.


unremarkably (adverb): in an unremarkable manner (NEW ENTRY: WAS 1939 NOW 1866)

Finnegans Wake (1939): Not to never be caving nicely, precisely, quicely, rebustly, tendrolly, unremarkably.

Now first recorded in London Society for 1866

Comment: Remarkably, neither the original OED nor its Supplements contained an entry for unremarkably. The term eventually entered the dictionary in December 2014, with an earliest reference from Joyce, culled probably from the FW concordance. Since then, however, common sense has reasserted itself, and earlier evidence has been discovered.


well-creamed (adjective): containing or covered with much cream (WAS 1922 NOW 1773)

Ulysses (1922): Your wellcreamed braceletted hands.

Now first recorded in James Robertson’s Poems on several occasions (London: 1773)

Comment: Joyce introduces “well-creamed hands”, when the earlier evidence is of “well-creamed” in culinary contexts. But – like many of the compounds now predated – they are reasonably uncommon but not vanishingly rare, and so can easily be formed at any time.


whiteflattened (adjective): both white and flattened, or white through being flattened (WAS 1922 NOW 1848)

Ulysses (1922): Nose white-flattened against the pane.

Now first recorded in the London Medical Gazette of 1848

Comment: an uncommon but easily reformed compound. Other than flattened and unflattered, the OED contains no other expressions included flattened except white-flattened. The dictionary follows regular style by hyphenating, while Joyce preferred to omit them.


whitegaitered (adjective): wearing or appearing to wear white gaiters (WAS 1922 NOW 1838)

Ulysses (1922): His nag, stumbling on whitegaitered feet, jogs along the rocky road.

Now first recorded in Bentley’s Miscellany for 1838

Comment: another simple compound which Joyce would not have expected to have coined. White-gaitered is the only compound including gaitered as the final element that the dictionary currently contains.


whiteheaped (adjective): forming a white heap (WAS 1922 NOW 1860)

Ulysses (1922): Belly without blemish, bulging big, a buckler of taut vellum, no, whiteheaped corn.

Now first recorded in Frederick Goddard Tuckerman’s Poems (Boston: 1860)

Comment: another simple formed compound re-researched while the OED entry for white was in revision. Heaped is more commonly found in compounds than flattened and gaitered. The OED also includes flake-heaped, high-heaped, mud-heaped, ruin-heaped, scrap-heaped, and upheaped.


whitepolled (adjective): having a white poll or head (WAS 1922 NOW 1780)

Ulysses (1922): Staggering Bob, a white polled calf, thrusts a ruminating head […] through the foliage.

Now first recorded from the London Morning Chronicle of 1780

Comment: the London papers of the late eighteenth century often carried advertisements for animals lost or to be sold; Joyce will simply have come across the expression in his day-to-day life in Dublin. The dictionary finds many parallel formations: carroty-polled, curly-polled, doddy-polled, red-polled.


whitesmocked (adjective): wearing a white smock (WAS 1922 NOW 1847)

Ulysses (1922): The whitesmocked priest came after him tidying his stole with one hand.

Now first recorded in the Essex Standard for 1847

Comment: another transparent adjectival compound, found by the OED in a regional context, but one which is readily transferred to Joyce’s religious one. Compounds of this nature are created by added the adjectival suffix –ed to a noun phrase (in this case white smock).


whiteyellow (adjective): that is both white and yellow (WAS 1922 NOW a1425)

Ulysses (1922): He […] felt a slack fold of his belly. But I know it's whiteyellow.

Now first recorded many years before Joyce, in the Liber Uricrisiarum (Wellcome MS 225; dated a1425), a medical treatise on the scientific examination of urine in the treatment of disease

Comment: Joyce will clearly not have read the OED’s earliest source. This type of word formation – in which the elements are in apposition to each other - is quite regular, and it is unremarkable that earlier usages have now been uncovered, though perhaps surprising that the antedating is by five centuries.


The revision of the word white in the OED means that Joyce has lost all of his previous first usages here, with the exception of white-arsed. The profile of this set of changes is in line with earlier gains and losses from Joyce’s canon: new and earlier evidence has been found for self-evident and easily reformed compounds (post-conditional, white-gaitered); regular informal terms are now often replaced by other, earlier references (maa), though Joyce is perhaps more likely to retain for longer his first usages in Irish English (footless) his taboo expressions typically remain, proving hard to predate because of the nature of the words (cunt).

The next issue will report on any further changes to Joyce’s vocabulary in the OED, as it moves further through its revision.

John Simpson



OED: June 2016 update

This quarterly update introduced seven more quotations from Joyce’s works into the OED. As a result, Joyce remained at No 138 in the ranking of most-cited sources in the dictionary. After this update he is recorded as providing the first example for 94 words in the dictionary, dropping six places to No 392 in this category, and for 445 words and meanings (rising one place in this ranking to No 244).

   These are terms for which the OED once cited Joyce for the first recorded example, or where Joyce is now the first example of a term newly added to the dictionary:


botch-up (noun): (originally) something cobbled together, now, a mess-up (WAS 1922 NOW 1915)

Ulysses (1922): Goodwins botchup of a concert.

Now first recorded in Punch magazine from 1915.

Comment: this is the type of informal term for which Joyce was often the first reference, as a writer who (quite unusually for his time) used a patchwork of slang and everyday usages in his writing. He was a ready source for the OED, especially as the concordance to Ulysses meant that there was a second chance to find expressions missed earlier by the OED’s readers. The availability of issues of Punch magazine on reference sources such as Google Books provides an entry point for OED lexicographers into the new slang of the new vocabulary of the early twentieth century.


bottleneck (noun): the neck of a bottle (WAS 1922 NOW 1712)                                                                    

Ulysses (1922): A room lit by a candle stuck in a bottleneck.

Now first recorded in English schoolmaster and lexicographer Thomas Dyche’s 1712 translation of the Fables of Phaedrus.

Comment: this substantial antedating is hardly a surprise. Bottleneck is a standard term in English, and it must just have been chance that Joyce was previously recorded as the earliest use. After the entry received its full-scale revision many earlier examples were uncovered, and four of these are provided in the text of the dictionary to supplant Joyce.

 

heart-balm (noun): something that is a comfort emotionally (WAS 1922 NOW 1828)

Ulysses (1922): There were wounds that wanted healing with heartbalm.

Now first recorded in the Reverend Edward Irving’s Sermons, Lectures, and Occasional Discourses of 1828.

Comment: although the term is not particularly common today, it is widely reported in the past, and so it is not surprising that – as a standard word – Joyce’s use in Ulysses has been well superseded by the updated entry, with three new references taking the origin of the expression (for the moment back) around a hundred years to 1828.

 

spreadeagle (adverb): with arms and legs stretched out in a spreadeagled position (WAS 1922 NOW 1905)

Ulysses (1922): A blond feeble goosefat whore […] lolls spreadeagle in the sofa corner.

Now first recorded in the Scottish Historical Review of 1905.

Comment: the usage is not common, but it easily fits English word-formation patterns, so it is not surprising to find it now earlier than Joyce.


star (noun): a star awarded to a product of outstanding quality (WAS 1922 NOW 1870)

Ulysses (1922): It was in consequence of a portwine beverage on top of Hennessy's three stars.

Now first recorded in the Daily News of 1870.

Comment: this antedating for Joyce is yet another expected corrective. Joyce clearly didn’t invent the star-classification system usedby thre drinks retailing industry, though he may well have profited from the system. The newspapers (now often available online) are a likely popular source for the terminology of advertising in Joyce’s day.

John Simpson


1 ‘“And Words. They are not in my dictionary”: James Joyce and the OED’, in Ronan Crowley and Dirk Van Hulle (eds.) New Quotatoes: Joycean Exogenesis in the Digital Age (Brill Rodopi: Leiden, Boston, 2016), pp. 45-65.