Ironic OED quotations

Knee-deep in OED quotation evidence today, I’ve been noting down some ironic entries. Here’s a selected list. Headwords are indicated by bold type.

1905 Daily Chron. 22 Nov. 6/7 There are ‘Australianisms’ enough to make a dictionary an essential for the proper understanding of an Antipodean journal.
not to mention ‘Australianism’ (no doubt an Anglicism)

1988 G. Naylor Mama Day 8 Everybody else in the country went on learning good English and calling things what they really was—in the dictionary and all that—while we kept on calling things ass-backwards.
…now and forever made ass-frontwards
, for which ‘thanks’!

1937 J. A. Lee Civilian into Soldier i. 29 ‘He’s a bastard.’ Guy used the term not for its dictionary meaning, but because among New Zealanders no term expressed greater contempt.
now they can look it up to make sure

1841 Dickens Humph. Clock 295, I would suggest that barbers is not exactly the kind of language which is agreeable and soothing to our feelings‥I believe there is such a word in the dictionary as hairdressers.
I believe there is such a word as ‘barbers,’ too

1930 Kenya Legislative Council Debates 4 Apr. 69 The first thing I notice about the motion is the word Asian’. I have tried to look it up, but I can find no dictionary which gives it—it is usually ‘Asiatic’.
…but if you keep on saying ‘Asian’…

1946 Amer. Jrnl. Sci. CCXLIV. 623 Thus the general use by geologists of‥‘*frost-heave’ and ‘*frost-heaved’ is not completely supported by dictionary definitions.
…until right now.

1938 Amer. Speech XIII. 205 [The dictionary] is a substantial compilation, easy on the eyes, comparatively rich in idiomatic expressions.
…expressions like ‘easy on the eyes’…

1875 Hamerton Intell. Life iii. iii. 91 He knew the dictionary meaning of every word he encountered.
…including ‘encountered’…

1870 Lowell Among my Bks. Ser. i. (1873) 157 A language‥ not yet fetlocked by dictionary and grammar mongers.
…This monger just fetlocked the shit out of your language, biatch.

Mod. Such words ought not to be given in a dictionary. [N.B. the date ‘Mod.‘ was used in the first edition to mark invented phrases which the lexicographers believed to be indicative of current usage]

1860 Marsh Lect. Eng. Lang. i. 13 In English, having no grammar, we have till lately possessed no grammars, and we still want a dictionary.
…You’re welcome.

1974 Trans. Philol. Soc. 1973 19 The only possibility of action would appear to be in the tort of injurious falsehood, but for a trade-mark proprietor to succeed he would have to show malice on the part of the publishers or editor of the dictionary.
…in case you’re listening, Realtors of America…

1800 Southey in C. C. Southey Life II. 81 One day there was a hallaballoo (I never saw that word in a dictionary‥) in the stables.
that’s why we’re here, folks…

1902 J. D. Corrothers Black Cat Club: Negro Humor & Folklore i. 14 I’se a genamum, mase’f.    Ibid. iii. 43, I writes a good han’ and I’s done read de dictionary.
…ironic because it thinks it’s ironic, but ain’t.

1872 De Morgan Budget Paradoxes 464 We have a glorious liberty in England of owning neither dictionary, grammar nor spelling-book.
eh, not for long…

1970 R. D. Sutherland Lang. & Lewis Carroll vii. 149 Humpty Dumpty is reporting the generally accepted meanings.‥ The information he imparts is ‘as sensible as a dictionary’.‥ He admits some difficulty with mome.
okay …

1754 Chesterfield World No. 101 ⁋11 A genteel neological dictionary, containing those polite‥ words and phrases, commonly used‥by the beau monde.
see Poetry & Contingency, ‘New Words for New Words

1950 M. Lowry Let. 6 Mar. (1967) 200 Oddly enough I put neptunium in but abandoned it for niobium.‥ I just took the elements out of the dictionary.
and put one back in.

 1940 Women’s Wear Daily 9 Feb. 22 … A number of words‥were rejected because it was found they were not sufficiently distinct from words found in the dictionary, or in lists of classified trademarks. After much deliberation, the term ‘nylon’ was finally adopted.
...which was so widely adopted that it found itself right where it hadn’t wanted to be.

1979 Listener 28 June 873/2 It is doubtful if anyone looked up a dictionary for a definition of ‘python’, but it is certain that future compilers of dictionaries are going to have to append a new meaning to ‘Pythonesque’, for the word is now common English usage on both sides of the Atlantic.‥ It describes a set of events that are more than bizarre, yet less than surreal.
it shall be done…

1961 R. W. Burchfield in Essays & Studies XIV. 39 A large number of literary sources‥are beingsystematically read against an Oxford dictionary.
ahem. Yes, boss...

1891 Pall Mall G. 5 Feb. 1/2 The dictionary has been ransacked‥for epithets to fling at the reciprocitarians.
…now you can call them “recipwhatevers”…

1982 TV Times Mag. 19 June 9/1 There’s a word for Stan [Ogden]‥and you won’t find it in a dictionary. The word is scammer. For the uninitiated, it means someone who practises the art and craft of the workshy‥, ensuring oneself of a living wage without, heaven forbid, working.

1971 Publishers’ Weekly 4 Oct. 42/2 Countless people‥have longed to own the Oxford dictionary and could not afford to spend $300 for it.
countless cheapskates.



  • […] for that matter, are neologism, neology [see "New Words for New Words"], or Nonce word [see "Ironic OED Quotations" and "Ghost Hapaxes in the OED"].  But coined the word/coined the phrase is/are, with the usual […]

  • kts wrote:

    Time marches on, and four of these headwords have had OED3 revisions since this post: ass-backwards kept its ironic quotation, but bastard, Asian, and frost lost theirs. I don’t like the loss of the quote for “Asian”, since it illustrated the tipping point between “Asiatic” and “Asian”. They’ve added a note, “Less common than Asiatic in this sense until the mid 20th cent., but now the more common word due to the frequently pejorative implication of Asiatic from the 19th cent. onwards”, but they’ve taken out the primary evidence of the changing attitude.

    Also, Pythonesque had already had its revision in December 2007, but it’s been modified since, and lost its ironic quotation.

    We want change-tracking, please!

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