Former Oxford Dictionary editor secretly deleted Indian words

Published: 28 November, 2012 17:49 IST | PTI |

An eminent former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary attempted to rewrite it by deleting thousands of words with foreign roots, including those of Indian-origin, a new book claims.

Robert Burchfield deleted words like 'balisaur', a badger-like animal from India, 'Danchi', a Bengali plant and 'boviander', the name in British Guyana for a person of mixed race living on the river banks.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is now re-examining words removed by Burchfield who edited the respected dictionary during the 70s and 80s and who died in 2004 aged 81, the 'Daily Mail' reported.

Burchfield, who bizarrely blamed previous editors for it, has long been considered the editor who opened up the English dictionary to the wider world.

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Sarah Ogilvie, also a former OED editor, in her new book 'Words of the World' reveals how Burchfield started a rumour that his earlier editors were inward-looking anglocentrics, when in fact the opposite was true. After investigating Burchfield's rumours she discovered they were unfounded and that he was actually responsible for the deletion of words such as 'shape', meaning a Tibetan councillor and 'wake-up', a golden-winged woodpecker.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is now re-examining words removed by Robert Burchfield.
"I was the editor of the OED responsible for words from outside Europe and while editing these words I noticed a pattern that went against the general consensus: there were thousands of foreign words and words from varieties of English around the world in the dictionary and they had been put there by editor James Murray and his fellow editors," she said.

"The irony of the whole story is that although in the beginning the dictionary editors were criticised for putting too many 'outlandish' words in the dictionary that were 'decaying' our language, one hundred years later they were criticised for the opposite: for too many British words in the dictionary and not enough foreign words!

"But it turns out that this was a myth perpetuated by a 20th-century Chief Editor of the OED," said Ogilvie.

She compared Burchfield's four OED dictionaries published between 1972 and 1986 to a 1933 edition and found that he had erased 17 per cent of the 'loanwords' and world English words that had been included by editor Charles Onions, who included 45 per cent more foreign words than Burchfield. 

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