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Poetry & the Dictionary$
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Andrew Blades and Piers Pennington

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781789620566

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781789620566.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM LIVERPOOL SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.liverpool.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Liverpool University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in LSO for personal use.date: 18 May 2022

not even invented

not even invented

(p.127) Chapter Six not even invented
Poetry & the Dictionary

Deborah Bowman

Liverpool University Press

William Empson was ambivalent about etymology; ‘we would often like an influence from past uses to survive in a word’, he wrote in 1977, ‘when it plainly doesn’t’. But he had always been preoccupied with ‘how a structure of meaning comes to be built up in a word’; this is part of what Kitty Hauser identifies as an ‘archaeological imagination’, an important strand of thought about origins and histories running through English modernism, by means of which what people would like to survive could be mysteriously animated. Empson’s poems of 1936 cast alterations and retentions of verbal meaning – which arise out of human behaviour but seem also to possess a power of their own – as figures for other forces detected but not fathomed. Considering contemporary events and public speculations over their causes and consequences, they were written while Empson, researching The Structure of Complex Words (1951), was thinking closely about what and how dictionary entries can convey. Shaped by reading the OED at a particular point in its own history, and through a particular historical moment, they also read that moment through the dictionary, and are set in motion by his wary investigation of what you could call an etymological imagination.

Keywords:   William Empson, Oxford English Dictionary, 1930s Literature, Arms Race, Etymology, Poetic Form, Rhyme

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