Reforming Our English -- By: J. D. Cox

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 041:164 (Oct 1884)
Article: Reforming Our English
Author: J. D. Cox


Reforming Our English

J. D. Cox

The first part of the London Philological Society’s Dictionary has appeared, and all who speak English may take comfort in the fact. A dictionary of English, upon historical principles, which should properly show the origin, growth, changing use, and present worth of the words we use, would cost such enormous labor in the preparation, and call for so varied talents in the editing, that for many years we have looked at Littré and Grimm with more envy than hope. Even the announcement that the Philological Society had undertaken the task gave us dreams rather than solid expectations of what might come; and it needed the bodily presence of this first part, with the imprint of the Clarendon press upon it, to give the full assurance that we are at last to have something like adequate means of studying our mother tongue.

It is a satisfaction, too, to know that it is brought about by the voluntary co-operation of scholars and readers all over the world. The incomprehensible total of three millions and more of quotations and excerpts, which have been gathered as the material for the editors, is the fruit of the unpaid labor of love of a whole army of volunteer assistants. To receive these references, systematize them, and guide the labor so as to save duplication and waste of work, was the task of a corps of experts, who in their turn have reported their progress to the smaller circle of sub-editors surrounding Professor Murray, the editor-in-chief. Nothing short of self-devotion of this kind could make the enterprise a success, and the publication of this first portion of the great work may without exaggeration be said to mark an epoch in English literature.

Nothing is further from my purpose, however, than a formal review of the new dictionary. My much more modest wish is to give some reasons justifying the assertion that the work marks an epoch in the history of the language. These reasons are, as it seems to me, such as might naturally occur to all who claim to be reasonably well educated, and who have given any thought to the question — What ought to be the future historical progress of written and spoken English in view of its historical past? Every century of the past six, since modern English has taken its place among the languages of the earth, has witnessed changes in the manner both of writing and of speaking it. The proofs of these changes rise now before us with their dates attached. Others will certainly take place in the future. What shall they be? Shall we try intelligently and with common effort to control them, with some clear aim and purpose, or shall we merely drift? The epoch, as I hope, will be opened by the development of such an intelligent purpose, for the forma...

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