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Lexicography

Lexicography can be done on the kitchen table.

— Charles Talbut Onions, as quoted by Robert Burchfield. (Source)

Lexicography is the art, craft, and science of compiling dictionaries. In broader use, it’s also applied to related activities like finding quotations for a historical or unabridged dictionary, and to the creation of other reference works like encyclop√¶dias and thesauruses.

The above quotation is one of my favourites on the craft. I also find this matches my experience closely.

Lexicography, especially historical lexicography, takes a long time. Even the 44 years that elapsed between the publication of the first fascicle of the OED and the completion of the last volume looks insignificant compared to the 123 years which the scholars working on the Grimm Deutsches Wörterbuch spent labouring over the history of Modern High and Standard German.

And it does not get appreciably quicker: the OED editors have decided, explicitly or not, to use the speed-ups granted by the use of computers to do more in the same amount of time, rather than to do the same amount in less time. The OED’s third edition will take about forty years at the current rate — about the same amount of time the original edition took — but will be about double the size when it’s done.

Dictionaries are examples of large and complex structured texts.

My current interests in lexicography are currently mainly centred around Green’s Dictionary of Slang.