The Obelisk and the Asterisk: views on language and change from the late modern period

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This chapter explores the complexities of the prescriptive-descriptive divide as revealed in three dictionaries from the early to late Modern English period. Lexicographers had not yet arrived at the idea that dictionaries should include all words; hence, those they chose to record in permanent form are telling. Also informative is their application of symbols to certain entries. No doubt this notation was informing readers these words were to be treated differently in some way. Yet, these lexicographers did not seem interested in expunging the entries – and they were certainly not advocating an invariable language. Their aims were more to guide readers in their choice of words and to outline different stylistic choices. Echoing David Crystal (2006a: 106) and linguistic wisdom today, “be linguistically prepared” could well have been their motto.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProcesses of Change
Subtitle of host publicationStudies in Late Modern and Present-Day English
EditorsSandra Jansen, Lucia Siebers
Place of PublicationAmsterdam The Netherlands
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)978902726210 3
ISBN (Print)9789027204141
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

NameStudies in Language Variation 21


  • prescriptivism, style, dictionaries, doctrine of correctness, hard words, inkhorn terms, hothourse words, mountweazels

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