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Preface to the Second Edition (1989)

General explanations (continued)


Under this term are included all collocations of simple words in which the separate spelling of each word is retained, whether they are formally connected by the hyphen, or virtually by the unity of their signification. The formal union and the actual by no means coincide: not only is the use of the hyphen a matter of indifference in an immense number of cases, but in many where it is habitually used, the combination implies no unity of signification; while others, in which there is a distinct unity or specialization of meaning, are not hyphenated. The primary use of the hyphen is grammatical: it implies either that the syntactic relation between two words is closer than if they stood side by side without it, or that the relation is a less usual one than that which would at first sight suggest itself to us, if we saw the two words standing unconnected. Thus, in the three sentences, 'After consideration had been given to the proposal, it was duly accepted', 'After consideration the proposal was accepted', 'After-consideration had shown him his mistake', we have first no immediate syntactic relation between after (conjunctive adverb) and consideration; secondly, the relation of preposition and object; thirdly, the relation of attribute and substantive, closer than the first, less usual than the second (since after is more commonly a preposition than an adjective). But after-consideration is not really a single word, any more than subsequent consideration, fuller consideration; the hyphen being merely a convenient help to the sense, which would be clearly expressed in speech by the different phrase-accentuation of smmafter considersmation and smafter considesmmration. And as this 'help to the sense' is not always equally necessary, nor its need equally appreciated in the same place, it is impossible that its use should be uniform. Nevertheless after-consideration, as used above, is on the way to becoming a single word, which reconsideration (chiefly because re- is not a separate word, but also because we have reconsider) is reckoned to be; and indeed close grammatical relation constantly accompanies close union of sense, so that in many combinations the hyphen becomes an expression of this unification of sense. When this unification and specialization has proceeded so far that we no longer analyse the combination into its elements, but take it in as a whole, as in blackberry, postman, newspaper, pronouncing it in speech with a single accent, the hyphen is usually omitted, and the fully developed compound is written as a single word. But as this also is a question of degree, there are necessarily many compounds as to which usage has not yet determined whether they are to be written with the hyphen or as single words. Many specialized combinations, indeed, are often not even hyphenated: especially is this the case with descriptive names, formed of a substantive preceded by an adjective or possessive case, or followed by a phrase, as Aaron's rod, all fours, Black Jack, Jack of all trades, Jew's harp, sea anemone.

There is thus considerable difficulty in determining to what extent combinations are matters for the lexicographer, and to what extent they are merely grammatical.

While no attempt is made fully to solve this difficulty, combinations formal and virtual are, for practical purposes, divided into three classes: First: those in which each word retains its full meaning, the relation between them falling under one or other of the ordinary grammatical categories. Of these, specimens merely are given, at the end of each article, which are printed in heavy italics, and illustrated collectively by a few quotations. Second: Combinations of which the signification is somewhat specialized, but still capable of being briefly explained in a few words, in connection with their cognates. These also are concisely treated at the end of the main article, where they are printed in small, dark bold type in an alphabetical series, and illustrated by quotations arranged in the same order. When these are very numerous the first usage of the word illustrated is typically distinguished in the quotation by prefixing *, in order that it may catch the eye more readily. Third: Combinations which attain in specialization of sense to the position of full compounds or which are used in various senses, or have a long history, and thus require to be dealt with more at large. These are often enumerated (in SMALL CAPTIALS) at the end of the main article, and thence referred to their alphabetical place, where they are treated in all respects as main words.

All compounds and combinations of interest or importance will thus be found either in their alphabetical order, or under the word which constitutes their first element. But phrases are treated under their leading word, as on account of, under ACCOUNT; and specific names, like sea anemone, black alder, under their generic names ANEMONE, ALDER, etc. Sea anemone is considered (linguistically) as a kind of anemone, but Adams's needle not as a kind of needle, nor mouse-ear as a kind of ear.