La datation constitue un des aspects les plus problématiques de la lexicographie argotique. Les mots sont, dans la plupart des cas, nés « dans la bouche », mais les éléments argotiques ont cette particularité d’y rester en général beaucoup plus longtemps que les mots de l’usage conventionnel. Le « sacré Graal » des lexicographes, une première attestation bien établie, est ainsi beaucoup plus difficile à trouver.
The concept of a dictionary ‘on historical principles’ is one in which each definition is underpinned by a chronological list of illustrative citations. These citations both show in detail the way in which the meanings and use of a given word have developed over time and simultaneously attempt to take the reader back, as far as is possible, to the ‘first use’. As far as modern English lexicography is concerned, the formula was initiated in Sir James Murray’s New English Dictionary, now known as the Oxford English Dictionary, the OED. Murray did not of course invent citations: The great multilingual Calepine of 1502 had used them, quoting from the classical authors, and the Academicians of France and Italy would follow suit. In England John Florio’s A Worlde of Wordes of 1598 included non-classical citations for the first time and in 1656 Thomas Blount’s Glossographia was the first to give English cites, even if most were from earlier dictionaries. A century later Samuel Johnson larded his Dictionary with quotations. and in 1837 Charles Richardson, in his New Dictionary of the English Language forswore any definitions at all and illustrated his head words only by citatory examples. But Richardson’s book remains something of a freak, while Johnson had no scruples in rewriting even Shakespeare’s lines if the original text failed completely to satisfy his lexicographical or equally his moral and political needs.
In its use of citations as in so many other ways the OED set the trend for the highest standards of modern anglophone lexicography.
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