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

Joyce Quotations Joyce First Uses

2,475 407

(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Van Hulle’s New Quotatoes: Joycean Exogenesis in the Digital Age, I investigated which of those 548 first usages were superseded by the time of its December 2012 quarterly update.1 The answer was 84: on 84 occurrences the OED editors had found material that predated Joyce, leaving him as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.

     This article surveys the comings and goings of Joyce’s quotations and first usages as quarterly updates to the OED are published, and as the dynamic database is updated generally. The first investigation (at the foot of this article) is a catch-up analysis, and covers OED updates between December 2012 and March 2016. The most recent instalment immediately follows this introduction.

John Simpson

OED: December 2021 – December 2022 updates

The total number of quotations in the OED from the works of Joyce remained unchanged over 2022 at 2,475. The number of first uses dropped by seven, however, from 414 in September 2021 to 407 in December 2022. Two of these changes represent internal restructuring of data, and so only five document show true earlier usages. Most of these are compounds, but not the sort of poetic compound it is easy to explain away as unlikely to recur elsewhere.

In these five cases the new findings highlight deficiencies in the old reading and research. Pointing to what wasn’t found before, though, is an unfair sport, as in the old days the editors did not have access to online search tools and databases, which have changed the face of hunting for lexical evidence.

There is still an issue with the switch of some blocks of quotations from an alphabetical sequence, when all examples for one term are given before a comparable sequence of quotations is presented relating to the next alphabetical term, to a chronological sequence including all related compounds. The latter is an “easy” option, but can obscure important word histories. There are some occasions where it is an acceptable option, and others (see trouserfly below) where I think it is not.

Over the past ten years Joyce has lost 83 “first uses”, generally better reflecting his significance as an originator of lexical items, and showing that the more important aspect of his linguistic genius lay in early adoption and manipulation of terms which had not previously found their way through to a general audience.

These are the seven terms which are no longer credited to Joyce as first uses:

antimilitarism (noun): [undefined: an attitude or stance that opposes militarism] WAS 1906, NOW 1888

Letters (1906) He was ridiculing .. antimilitarism.

With hindsight we can agree that 1906 is late for anti-militarism. The OED now finds its first example in an issue of the popular Reynold’s Newspaper of 1888 which refers to Prince Albert’s “well known .. anti-militarism”. Related words in the second edition of the OED are also swept back into the late nineteenth century, so a pattern begins to emerge. The noun anti-militarist dates from 1905 in OED2, but the revision uncovers an example from the London Standard newspaper from 1872, and tracks the adjective back, also from 1905, to 1894. It seems as if OED2 associated this batch of words with the very early years of the 20th century when the new reality (itself liable to change) places them in the 1870s and 1880s. The slightly more distant adjective anti-military fell back from 1850 to 1764 and a discussion of “anti-military principles” which had apparently then taken hold amongst the general public.

Comment: this is a simple case of prefixation, which we are likely to find predated further as additional new material becomes available through the internet (or is encountered by keen-eyed readers unattached to the internet).


fig roll (noun): a soft biscuit filled with fig paste or fig jam. (WAS 1922 NOW 1887)

Ulysses (1922) i. 24 A bag of figrolls lay snugly in Armstrong's satchel.

The OED’s 1922 first use of fig roll has now been capped by around thirty-five years by a reference from Mary G. Smith’s Temperance Cook Book, published in America in 1887, and probably not a book Joyce would have rushed to acquire. The dictionary notes its first use from the Irish side of the Atlantic in an issue of the Isle of Man Times dated 31 March 1894 “Fig rolls—containing real Fig Jam, splendid value”.

Comment: it is rather surprising that the OED could not previously uncover uses of fig roll before Joyce if (as we now know) they did predate him. A hunt through online historical newspapers suggests that it was in the early 1890s that fig rolls started to be advertised widely in Britain and Ireland.


fluthered (adjective): drunk, intoxicated. (NEW ENTRY, first recorded in Joyce)

Continuation of a Work in Progress in transition (1927) No. 3. 42 He had had had o'gloriously a'lot too much horse-shoe fine to drink in a ship hotel and was only falling fluthered up against the gatestone pier.

It’s good to see this entry for a slang term first recorded in Joyce’s work towards Finnegans Wake. The OED is in two minds over its origin – either ultimately from flutter (see “all of a flutter” perhaps) or maybe a variation of peloothered or even blootered in the same sense.

Comment: these days this was added, I suspect, not simply because it is found in a work by Joyce, but also because that usage is paralleled by equivalent uses elsewhere in the language, two of which are also cited in the entry.

Middle Youth (noun): the period between youth and middle age, especially with reference to interests or views carried forward by young people as they become older. (WAS 1922 NOW 1879)

Ulysses (1922) iii. xvii. [Ithaca] 633   In middle youth he had often sat observing through a rondel of bossed glass .. the thoroughfare without.

A play on “middle age”, of a type Joyce may well have enjoyed. The entry in the OED dates from after the Second Edition of 1989, but online searching of historical local newspapers from America has allowed the editors access to an even earlier example from Harry A. Cartwright’s Bundle of Saints and Sinners (1879).

Comment: Still a fairly unusual term (Google finds 200,000 matches compared with over 41 million for “middle age”) it’s not particularly surprising that OED research ten or fifteen years ago did not uncover this earlier usage. It’s a reminder of the constant refrain that whatever you can find today can often be bettered tomorrow.

shockmaned (adjective): with a thick or shaggy mane or head of hair.

Ulysses (1922) ii. 490 Ben Jumbo Dollard, rubicund, .. shaggychested, shockmaned, .. stands forth.

A straightforward collocation which has lost its “first use” label because the structure in which it lies has been reorganised in chronological order, to illustrate not individual compounds, but (chronologically) similar collocations of shock and words relating to hair.

Comment: This is a reasonable course of action in the case of collocations which are not supported by additional occurrences. It is, however, of some interest that another use appears in the Scottish writer James Maclaren Cobban’s Reverend Gentleman (1891), which talks of a “wild-eyed, shock-maned creature”.

stander (noun): someone who “stands” or treats another to a drink. (WAS 1922 NOW 1866)

Ulysses (1922) ii. xiv. [Oxen of the Sun] 405 Will immensely splendiferous stander permit one stooder .. to terminate one expensive .. libation.

“Standing” a person a drink is recorded from the early years of the nineteenth century, but that doesn’t mean you can assume all derived forms (such as “stander”) existed from the same time. Some may take years to emerge, and others may never find a place in general language. So although the base form existed, a researcher might not develop a strong idea about when the agent form in -er arose.

In this case, Joyce has been predated to the popular magazine Bell's Life in London, from an issue dated  22 December 1866. Once you know, it doesn’t seem unlikely.

trouserfly (noun): the fly or strip of material covering the buttons or zip at the front of a pair of trousers

Ulysses iii. [Proteus] in Little Review (1918) May 44 The slits of his buttoned trouser-fly.

As with shockmaned Joyce’s use is still the only example of the term in the dictionary, and it has now been included in a chronological structure with other related trouser- compounds, as so does not head its own specialist paragraph of quotations.

Comment: in this case it seems a pity that the dictionary has lost its alphabetical listing, as for these compounds a sequence of quotations for each one would much better illustrate the life of the expressions within the history of clothing, fashion, and generally. Other examples of trouser-fly are readily available in the regular research sources.

OED: September 2020 September 2021 updates

Over this period the total number of quotations from the works of Joyce cited in the OED rose by only ten, and the number of first uses of words, meanings, and expressions credited to Joyce fell by eight. In general these lost first uses were replaced by early evidence found by the OED’s readers and researchers..

Four are single words: box, codology, dingdong, and upsa (see below for more details on these). Codology has been considered a favourite Joyce word, and so it is perhaps noteworthy that much earlier evidence has now been found. Readers of the James Joyce Online Notes will recall the article The kidology of codology, published in our second issue (March 2012), when even earlier evidence was presented for the early use of this expression. The other three terms are from the colloquial register, and predating these might have been foreseen with better access to evidence available to today’s researchers.

The other four “losses” are two-word compounds: servant-wife, suet-faced, suit length, and witchroasting. Suit length is an informal and trade term, whereas suet-faced is an established – if dismissive – collocation, and predating these is unexceptionable. Servant-wife and witchroasting, on the other hand, are rare or one-off expressions. In these two cases, the OED has, in its revision, elected to retain the quotations but to merge them with similar compound formations of the root noun. In cases like this, it is worth observing whether the cultural context of the terms has somehow led them to be removed from prominence. But this does not appear to be the case here.

These are the eight terms which are no longer credited to Joyce as first uses:


box (noun): a compartment where a priest hears confessions; a confessional box (WAS 1922, NOW 1842)

Ulysses (1922): I wonder did he know me in the box.

The predating from an American regional newspaper (to an issue of the Extra State Sentinel, published in Indianapolis in 1842) takes the usage of the word back eighty years, and from Ireland across the ocean to America.

Comment: This is not a surprising predating, as the term is simply a shortening or parallel form of the longer confessional box.

codology (noun): misrepresenting, shamming, or hoaxing; nonsense (WAS 1922 NOW 1860)

Ulysses (1922): The why and the wherefore and all the codology of the business.

One of Joyce’s favourite words, for the light it can cast of the interaction between people; later we found kidology. It feels as if it may be Joyce creation, and he would probably have been pleased to coin it – but he didn’t. Evidence now shows that it was known around the middle of the 19th century at least.

Comment: antedating alert! An early issue of the James Joyce Online Notes provided evidence for the use of codology in the Irish newspaper The Nation in 1847. This earlier usage needs to be noted by the dictionary (advice sent).

dingdong (noun): a heated argument, a lively exchange of blows or views (WAS 1922 NOW ?1760)

Ulysses (1922): Yes, she was back. To the old dingdong again.

A common colloquialism which the OED happened to instance first from Ulysses, but which was always likely to pre-exist in earlier texts. Subsequent research has uncovered numerous examples, of which the earliest as yet comes from The nightingale. Being a choice collection Of the newest and most favourite English  songs, which has been set to music, and sung at the Public theatres and gardens (undated, but likely to come from around 1760).

Comment: Another term for which Joyce originally provided the earliest available evidence, but which has now been returned over a hundred and fifty years to the mid 18th century. The issue is not the standard of research for early editions of the dictionary, but that informal vocabulary such as this was typically less available to researchers than it is today.

servant-wife (noun): a woman or wife who acts as a servant (NOW 1922)

Letters (1966): Servant-wife blows her nose in the letter and lawyer confronts the mistress.

This quotation is still cited in the dictionary, but is no longer given the status of a sub-headword, but is merged with other servant- terms with the general meaning “a (something) that is a servant”.

Comment: Given the rareness of the compound this seems a reasonable procedure in this case.

suet-faced (adjective): having a face that looks as if it has the consistency of suet (WAS 1922 NOW 1834)

Ulysses (1922): A pallid suetfaced young man polished his tumbler knife fork and spoon with his napkin.

As with other colloquial terms, there is no reason to lament first usage drifting away from Joyce, back ninety years to the Monthly Magazine of 1834, which refers to a “cold-blooded suet-faced water-drinker”, in terms which Joyce might have approved.

Comment: We should be pleased that the OED still distinguishes these suet- sub-entries (suet-brained, suet-faced, suet-pudding – especially for those studying the motivation behind food-based invective.

suit length (noun): a piece of material of the right size to make into a suit (WAS 1922 NOW 1860)

Letters (1957): There is now a special cheap edition … about 1/111/4 per normal novel suitlength real continental.

In the days when all suits were made-to-measure the suit length probably seemed more important to the purchaser than it does today. Shop talk and tailors’ jargon was hard to research before the advent of computer searching, and we should not be surprised that this term has now been taken back over sixty years.

Comments: Compounds such as this can be tricky to research online, as search software often takes no account of punctuation, and in the overwhelming number of cases suit and length are separated by a full-stop, semi-colon, etc. Even when they are not, the grammatical context may be wrong, as when length is the object of the main verb suit.

upsa (interjection): used when helping someone up from a fall, etc. (similarly to upsidaisy) (WAS 1922 NOW 1903)

Ulysses (1922): Hoopsa! Don't fall upstairs.

The word doesn’t have an “official” spelling, and it’s reasonable that the current entry has been moved from upsa to upsy. Neither of these represents Joyce’s form hoopsa. OED’s earlier example comes from American writer Laura Richards’s children’s storybook The Green Satin Gown, which begins: “Who ever wore such a queer-looking thing?” I wore it myself, dear, once upon a time; yes, I did!”, and continues in a style where upsy might not be out of place.

Comment: As another informal term, it is not likely to be a term Joyce would have expected to be credited with creating, though way assuming an everyday style he naturally included similar expressions.

witchroasting (noun): the burning of a witch

Ulysses (1922): A Scotch philosophaster with a turn for witchroasting.

As with servant-wife above, this compound remains in the OED, but it has now lost its status as a lemmatised sub-entry, and so is not longer credited as a Joycean first use.

Comment: It seems reasonably to amalgamate this was similar witch- compounds, as its significance of a representative of a type is more important in the language than the collocation witchroasting itself

OED: March 2019 – June 2020 updates

This report covers six quarterly updates of the OED, and shows that the total number of quotations from Joyce was precisely the same in June 2020 as it was at the start of this period, in March 2019. This, however, masks movement within the text, as some quotations have been added and others removed. The key figure in terms of Joyce’s linguistic innovation is that over this period he has “lost” seven first uses – down from 430 to 423. In fact, he has lost eight and one new one has been added, making the difference of seven in all.

     Close observers of these changes will detect yet another sharp drop in Joyce’s ranking in the OED with respect to first uses of a word or meaning: at the start of this period he stood at No 253 in the ranking, and has now fallen to No 263. Before the previous reporting period he ranked No 245, so we are now seeing a continuing slide.

     This is in general not a matter of great concern, though, as it tends to correct an imbalance previously apparent in the dictionary, which has tended to privilege classic authors, and imply that they were more significant in terms of lexical innovation than they necessarily were.

     These are the changes found over this period:

ambroid (adjective): (of a piece of jewellery) made or set with ambroid (NOW 1922)

Ulysses (Calypso) (1922): I gave her the amberoid necklace she broke.

This quotation was already in the OED in its previous, unrevised, version, but its entry had not been subdivided into noun and adjectival uses, and so it did not show as a first use.

Comment: a very positive change, showing closer refinement of the data into separate parts of speech.

cocklepicker (noun): a person who picks cockles, from the seashore (WAS 1922 NO LONGER USED: NOW 1801)

Ulysses (1922): Cocklepickers..waded a little way in the water.

This quotation is no longer displayed in the dictionary, as compounds are (after revision) no longer shown individually but are messed into a general chronological compound paragraph of quotation.

Comment: This seems to me a questionable editorial decision, as cockle-picker is a significant word which has been the focus of national news coverage in recent years. Worse, the remaining earliest quotation for the term in the OED comes from five years later (W. B. Yeats). This is an expression with a strong Irish ancestry which needs more sensitive treatment.

Update: Success! Cockle-picker and cockle-picking have now been reinstated as defined items in the OED, with first quotations from 1801 (the Weekly Entertainer) and 1835 (a Parliamentary Report on the condition of the poorer classes in Ireland) respectively. Joyce is therefore no longer cited for the first recorded use of cockle-picker, but retains his place as an author cited for his use of the term.

dreck (noun): something worthless; rubbish, trash (WAS 1922 NOW 1905)

This quotation is no longer displayed in the dictionary, as it has been superseded by new earlier material, specifically by an attestation in C. N. Crewdson’s Tales of the Road (1905), where the spelling is “Drek”, and by a reference in the Macon (Missouri) Republican(1916), spelled “dreck”.

Ulysses (1922): Farewell. Fare thee well. Dreck!

Comment: It was curious that Joyce was the first-cited author for a general slang term which he presumably didn’t invent himself, so this new data is sensibly corrective.

enthusiasm (noun): an object of (often short-lived) interest or passion (WAS 1916 NOW 1895)

OED’s long-standing first quotation from Joyce has now been superseded by a quotation from the London Weekly Standard newspaper, which reads “His latest enthusiasms are some of the songs of Miss Frances Allitsen”.

Portrait of Artist (1916): The letters cut in the stained wood .. stared upon him, mocking his bodily weakness and futile enthusiasms.

Comment: The term is probably more current in this sense nowadays than it was in Joyce’s time, and it needed a search of large text databases to narrow down an antedating. But it’s not a term Joyce would have claimed to have invented.

heelclacking (noun): the action or sound of heels making a “clacking” sound on the floor (WAS 1922 NOW NO LONGER HIGHLIGHTED)

These minor heel compounds are now presented in the OED in chronological order, and individual first uses are no longer specified.

Ulysses (1922): A firm heelclacking is heard.

Comment: By reducing heelclacking to a secondary element, we are probably not losing much information, and the compound was probably over-privileged in the previous edition of the dictionary.

Jewman (noun): a Jewish man  (WAS 1922 NOW a1382)

The previous edition of the dictionary in its predominantly derogatory and offensive context; the revised entry notes that historically this was not always the case, and brings in earlier neutral usages. New post-medieval instances still convey a derogatory tone.

Ulysses (1922): I'll brain that bloody jewman for using the holy name.

Comment: The strength of this addition is that although we lose a Joyce first use we have a truer record of the variation in usage of the compound over six or so centuries.

pipespill (noun): a spill used for lighting a pipe (WAS 1922 NOW 1893)

In the 1920s this was clearly a more common compound than the OED had previously thought. The updated entry now sports a predating from an American newspaper, the Emporia Daily Gazette, from Kansas. Again, this will not have been a reference discovered by old-fashioned reading, but by computer search.

Ulysses (1922): Pages will be torn from your handbook of astronomy to make them pipespills.

Comment: Presumably, the term did not appear regularly in the sort of early 20th-century texts that the OED traditionally read, but it succumbed to a big-text computer investigation. It’s a fairly obvious compound, so not a major loss to Joyce’s register of innovation.

schlep (verb): to carry, drag, or haul (WAS 1922 NOW 1911)

It not unusual for a word of Yiddish/German origin to be recorded first in Britain and Ireland, but it wasn’t surprising to find that when the entry was updated a new first usage was uncovered in the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post: ‘Why should you bother yourself to schlepp me along like this?’ he said. ‘There's lots of people I could go out with.’

Ulysses (1922): She trudges, schlepps, trains, drag .. her load.

Comment: The first verb in these reports that Joyce has “lost” to an antedating.

swinefat (noun): fat or lard from a pig (WAS 1922 NOW 1561)

This is not a natural first use for Joyce, as one can imagine many more likely sources of commentary of animal fats than the pages of Ulysses. So unsurprisingly new research has found examples of the expression way back to the mid sixteenth century (1561). In fact, the sub-entry has been expanded to include the older formation swine’s fat, and the new earliest use for the simplex swinefat is now 1825.

Ulysses (1922): Her odalisk lips .. smeared with salve of swinefat.

Comment: Yet again movement on the creativity front revolves around a compound term.

travellership (noun): the fact or status of being a traveller (WAS 1920 NOW 1824)

The new first example of the term comes from John Cochrane’s Narrative of a pedestrian journey through Russia and Siberian Tartary (1824).

Letters (1920): Giorgio has been offered a position here in an American Trust Agency which would develop into a secretaryship and travellership for same.

Comment: This is the type of derivative expression that is easily formed, and it is reasonable to expect an antedating to come from a travel book from the nineteenth century or earlier.

whoremistress (noun): a brothel-keeper or prostitutes’ madam (WAS 1922 NOW 1885)

The context is fine for Ulysses in Nighttown, but earlier references now derive from records of court cases from the Punjab in the late nineteenth century.

Ulysses (1922): Bella Cohen, a massive whoremistress enters.

Comment: If anything one might have expected an earlier use at any time from the middle of the eighteenth century, or even earlier. Perhaps one will come to light.

yewfrond (noun): a frond of leaves from a yew-tree (WAS 1922 NO LONGER HIGHLIGHTED)

The situation here is similar to that at heelclacking, as previously this was given its own little section, with an earliest use (Joyce), and after revision the minor compounds are all displayed together in chronological sequence.

Ulysses (1922): The walls are tapestried with a paper of yewfronds.

Comment: The case is not so clear-cut as at the rarer heelclacking, but it was probably correct in terms of lexical significance to downgrade this to a run-of-the-mill compound, and not one accorded special antedating rights.

OED: June – December 2018 updates

The three quarterly updates between June and December 2018 saw Joyce drift overall slightly down the leaderboard of more frequently cited sources. In the key field of “First uses of a particular (word or) meaning”, he dropped dramatically from No 245 to No 253, as seven of his previous first uses were stripped away from him by new evidence or a revised editorial perspective.

Joyce benefited from the update of the word “arse” in September, but suffered from the revision of the “un-“ prefix in June.

These are the changes found over this period:

to arse about (phrase): to fool about (WAS 1922 NOW 1919)

Neither lost nor gained by Joyce, as this example has simply been redated from the book publication of Ulysses to its first appearance in print in the November 1919 issue of the Little Review.

Ulysses in the Little Review (1919):  Arsing around from one pub to another.

Comment: Instances such as this prompt the question whether Joyce should be cited from even earlier MS or typescript witnesses, but in general this is a bridge too far for the OED, as much the same could be said of many texts, and to follow this policy would doubtless suck resources from other areas of the update.

arseways (adverb): “from behind (sexually)” (NEW ENTRY: 1909)

Although many of the examples listed here show Joyce losing credit for a “first recorded use”, here is one where he has gained a new “first”.

Letter (1909):  I am delighted to see that you do like being fucked arseways.

Comment: It is unlikely that Joyce coined the term, but this will be another example of a coarse or taboo expression finding its way into print early through the medium of Joyce. It is possible that Joyce’s first use will be superseded by an earlier use if more research is conducted in the “right” circles.

g.p.i. (abbreviation): = general paralysis of the insane, a term for the later manifestation of syphilis (WAS 1922 NOW 1892)

A new first use has now been uncovered in the British Medical Journal of 1892.

Ulysses (1922): That fellow I was with in the Ship last night, said Buck Mulligan says you have g.p.i. He’s up in Dottyville with Conolly Norman.  General paralysis of the insane.

Comment: It is extraordinary that Joyce should ever have been credited with the first use of this abbreviation, which was most likely to have originated in the world of medicine. It is possible that early OED readers in the 19th century were not attuned to abbreviations being valuable records of our vocabulary, and so failed to record examples they encountered. The new first use derives from a likely source, the British Medical Journal, where g.p.i. appears as jargon rather than slang.

unblouse (verb): to divest of a blouse (WAS 1922 NOW NOT RECORDED)

This example was introduced in the Supplement to the OED (vol 4, 1986), where it illustrated occasional uses of the prefix not attested well enough to form headwords in their own right. It has been removed from OED3.

[Ulysses (1922): Miss bronze unbloused her neck.]

Comment: Whilst it is necessary to keep tight control of the content of the dictionary, it is arguably unfortunate that a creative extension based on the un- prefix has been lost. The logical extension of this policy is that occasional creative and poetic usages are airbrushed from the linguistic record presented by research dictionaries.

uncobbled (adjective): not set with cobble stones (WAS 1922 NOW NOT RECORDED)

Another example from the first volume of the Supplement to the OED which has fallen to revision (see unblouse), as the expression no longer appears in the dictionary.

[Ulysses (1922) 422 An uncobbled tramsiding set with skeleton tracks.]

Comment: Although this met the same fate as unblouse, the term has a slightly different profile, not being a particularly “creative” term, but simply descriptive. It is perhaps interesting in the light of the shift in Joyce’s time from railway to motor travel.

unconsortable (adjective): difficult to consort with, uncompanionable

This usage has not been lost to the dictionary, but has changed its status. Previously it stood as a lexical item, illustrated by Joyce. Now, it has lost this status, and is simply used to illustrate the relevant subsense of the prefix un-.

Chamber Music (1907): He who hath glory lost, nor hath Found any soul to follow his [...] That high unconsortable one.

Comment: In some ways, unconsortable has been lucky, as it remains as an illustrative example in the dictionary, but is no longer searchable as a “word”. As such, it has met a kinder fate than unblouse, though both seem unattested outside Joyce.

undeathliness (adjective): the state of immortality or not dying

Undeathliness has taken an unusual journey, since Joyce’s employment of the word in Ulysses became the earliest example of what were referred to in the dictionary as “recent formations” using this sense of the prefix un-. It has been superseded by an example which is formally the same, but from Old English!

Ulysses (1922): She prayed to God the Allruthful to have his dear soul in his undeathliness.

Comment: Undeathly was upgraded by the revision of the OED. Previously it languished deep in the entry for the un- prefix, but it is now a main entry in its own right, presumably on the basis of wider evidence for its currency, but also because it has been merged with an Old English term which is formally the same (and which was formerly in the same OED prefix entry). Undeathliness has been swept up in the same change, promoted out of the prefix entry to hang onto the tail of undeathly as a subordinate compound. More unusually, the subentry with which it has been merged is first attested from the work of the Anglo-Saxon abbot, writer, grammarian Aelfric. Joyce hasn’t “lost” this first use, but policy changes and differences of interpretation have meant that undeathliness is now regarded as part of a larger entry, with longer evidence of use.

unoccupyable (adjective): that cannot be occupied

Like unblouse and uncobbled, unoccupyable has fallen out of the OED, an occasional and easily reformed compound which has had to give place to other expressions.

Joyce Ulysses (1922): A thatched [...] 2 storey dwellinghouse [...] with agreeable prospect [...] over unoccupied and unoccupyable interjacent pastures.

Comment: Prolific compound-generators such as the suffix -able can cause problems to lexicographers, who want to illustrate as many expressions as they can, but need to work within practical limits. In this case, unoccupied and unoccupancy remain, but not the less frequent unoccupyable. Joyce scholars may regret this, but others will argue that some compromise must be found to prevent the dictionary breaking its bounds.

zephyring (adjective): moving softly, like a breeze

This is a somewhat poetical expression originally cited by the OED from Finnegans Wake. Revision of the entry has shown that earlier examples can be found, of which the first is from the volume of poetry called Tendrils (1822), written by “Reuben” (Robert Stephen Hawker).

Finnegans Wake (1939): Since longsephyring sighs sought heartseast for their orience?

Comments: Closer reading of poetical texts has been responsible for Joyce’s use of the adjective being superseded as the earliest use, and also for the parallel first use of the verb drifting from a late Thomas Hardy poem of 1922 back to an occurrence in the highly popular song collection, the Universal Songster, of 1829.

OED: June 2017 – March 2018 updates

In March 2017 there were 2,459 quotations from Joyce in the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary, and 443 of those recorded the first recorded usages of words in English. Almost a year later, the quotation count for Joyce had increased by only four, but the first usages had dropped by six.

   The first to leave the first-use count, at the time of the quarterly update of June 2017, was pneu, used by Joyce in a letter of 1928. Then, with the September update, Joyce held his own, not losing any further first quotations.

   The situation changed with the OED update of January 2018 (held over from December 2017), when a further five of Joyce’s first attestations disappeared from the dictionary record.

   There were no changes to the number of first uses from Joyce's work in the March 2018 update of the dictionary. The number of quotations from Joyce throughout the whole dictionary rose by six to 2,469.

   These are the entries affected over this period:

pneu (noun): a letter sent by the French pneumatic postal system (WAS 1928 NOW 1926)

Now first recorded in a letter of Ernest Hemingway, dated 1926.

Letter (1928): I got your pneu and shall follow your instructions.

Comment: Joyce was not the only writer to send or receive pneus across Paris before the system was abolished in 1984, though early usages are hard to uncover. Although several decades had passed since the entry for pneu had previously been edited, it was found only possible to discover a predating of two years.

self-explaining (adjective): self-explanatory (WAS 1903 NOW 1821)

Now first recorded in Enos Cobb’s Self-explaining Grammar of the English Language, published in 1821.

Letter (1903): I enclose you self-explaining documents.

Comment: Self-explaining is a relatively rare alternative for the earlier self-explanatory. It is not a term Joyce would have considered that he was creating, and it is not surprising to find evidence for this self-evident compound almost a century earlier.

selfsubmersive (adjective): that submerges itself (WAS 1914: no longer listed)

Stephen Hero (a1914): Stephen, as he looked contemptuously at the laughing faces, thought of a self-submersive reptile.

Comment: With the revision of the large entry for self- a number of rare compounds including ones such as this which are only recorded by the dictionary once, have been deleted, presumably on the argument that they are not significant in their own right, but only as examples of the way in which self- can bind itself to many adjectives to form self-evident compounds.

selfabbreviating (adjective): that shortens itself (WAS 1922: no longer listed)

Ulysses (1922): The selfprolonging tension of the thing proposed to be done and the selfabbreviating relaxation of the thing done.

Comment: As with self-submersive (and presumably for the same reason) this compound was not carried forward from the second edition of the OED.

self-tinted (adjective): (apparently) tinted by oneself (WAS 1922: no longer listed)

Ulysses (1922): A neat blouse of electric blue, self-tinted by dolly dyes.

Comment: As with self-submersive and self-abbreviating (and presumably for the same reason) this compound was not carried forward from the second edition of the OED.

sun-compelled (adjective): compelled by the sun (WAS 1922: no longer listed)

Ulysses (1922): He would hear and somehow reluctantly, sun-compelled, obey the summons of recall.

Comment: As with self-submersiveself-abbreviating, and self-tinted (and presumably for the same reason) this compound was not carried forward from the second edition of the OED.

OED: September 2016 - March 2017 updates

The September 2016 update brought five more quotations from Joyce into the dictionary. None of these were first recorded usages of the terms under review. On the other hand, Joyce lost two first uses, and his total for first uses in English dropped to 442. The December update saw this figure drop further, to 440, though a further seven Joyce quotations were added to the dictionary elsewhere.

   March 2017 saw a slight shuffling of the contents of some entries involving Joyce: in three cases Joyce was already cited as the first user of an expression which was unpacked from a general paragraph of examples for several usages (buggered, snotgreen, and wagtail kite). These now stand as Joyce first uses in their own right. However, studfee was the only Joyce term antedated in the March 2017 dictionary update.

    These are the terms for which Joyce is now no longer the first recorded user:

fine-boned (adj.): possessing fine bones (WAS 1927 NOW 1722)

Pomes Penyeach (1927): I wrap him warm And touch his trembling fineboned shoulder.

Now first recorded in John Jones’s translation of Oppian’s Halieuticks, published in 1722

Comment: It is quite surprising that the OED’s first use was originally as late as 1927. A long jump back to 1722 puts fine-boned at a more reasonable date, though it’s likely that even earlier evidence for its use can be found.

nostos (noun): a homecoming journey as a literary theme, esp. that of Odysseus (WAS 1920 NOW 1910)

Letters (1920): A great part of the Nostos or close was written several years ago and the style is quite plain.

Now first recorded in the Classical Review of 1910

Comment: A rare Greek borrowing, but one which Joyce would probably have encountered in his readings about Odysseus for Ulysses. He probably regarded it as too abstruse for the text of the novel, but dropped it into a letter. The antedating is short (ten years), but the term was always likely to be uncovered first within Classical scholarship.

shoplift (vb.): to steal (something) from a shop while pretending to be a customer (WAS 1922 NOW 1756)

Ulysses (1922): A whore always shoplifting anything she could.

Now first recorded in the Public Advertiser (London) newspaper of 1756

Comment: The OED originally regarded this transitive use as secondary to the intransitive one, but in revision this sense has leapfrogged in front of the static earlier transitive sense (still dated from 1822). The fact that the 1822 reference is from Shelley suggests it may fall to future antedating. The usage lost to Joyce is a regular application of the verb which was originally first recorded surprisingly later, and has now bounded backwards almost two centuries.

softworded (adj.): expressed in or consisting of soft words (WAS 1926 NOW 1826)

Portrait (1916): It was only amid softworded phrases […] that he dared to conceive of the soul or body of a woman moving with tender life.

Now first recorded in the Rev. Henry Cole’s translation of Martin Luther’s Commentary on the First Twenty-two Psalms (1826)

Comment: Like fineboned this is a compound adjective which follows a regular formation pattern, and so predates seemlessly by around a century.

studfee (n.): the fee charged to place a horse etc. at stud (also applied humorously to people) (WAS 1922 NOW 1871)

Ulysses (1922): What's our *studfee? [...] You fee men dancers on the Riviera, I read.

The original use is now first recorded in the sporting journal Bell's Life in London (1871)

Comment: The OED used to treat this as an undefined (self-evident) compound, and so it is not suprising that Joyce's extended use of people has been predated now that the full entry has been revised and updated. Joyce's quotation remains the first example of the "extended" use.

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: It was mysterious that Joyce was ever credited with the first recorded occurrence of the term bottleneck, in the first volume of the Supplement to the OED (1972). Bottleneck had not been included in the original B volume of the first edition of the OED, published in 1888, perhaps because it was not felt to be a significant compound of bottle. Ideas on what was significant and what was not developed gradually over the early years of the dictionary’s life.

Under the old print technology, the next opportunity to include bottleneck in the OED occurred in 1933, in the first Supplement to the dictionary. And indeed, that old supplement did include the word, but not in its literal sense of “the neck of a bottle”, but only in the senses of a narrow section of a thoroughfare, and similar uses. This time, it seems to have been the literal use that was not considered dictionary-worthy.

At last, in 1972, a decision was taken to include the literal meaning, but absence of early material in the card files and other reference resources meant that the earliest attestation to be found came from Ulysses. The revision has improved on that effort significantly, finding a string of evidence for the use of the term back to 1712.

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: This did not appear in the first edition of the OED, nor in its 1933 Supplement (for which Joyce was not “read”). Its late appearance in the Supplement of 1972, where it accompanies a 1930s quotation from P. G. Wodehouse, might have suggested that this was a literary term. But modern revision now takes the expression back to 1828, often in somewhat religious contexts. In the light of the bigger picture, it is not surprising that Joyce loses this first use.

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: Three stars were allotted to a product of high quality, often by the manufacturer. The OED used to cite Joyce as the first reference for this commercial and advertising feature, and this perhaps seems reasonable in the light of Bloom’s profession as an advertising canvasser. But revision of the article for star has recently shown that the star-designation is older than Joyce as, in retrospect, we might expect. The newspapers (now often available online) are a likely popular source for the terminology of advertising in Joyce’s day. It is easy to be right in retrospect; less easy if you have no earlier documentary evidence to hand.

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 unflattened, 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


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.