Surprise in lexicography: the 1780 dictionary had two versions | Culture


The first dictionary of the Royal Academy was published in six volumes between 1726 and 1739, and in each of its entries (that is, in each word collected and defined) there was a citation that attested to the previous use of the term, often in works of great authors. That is why it has been called Dictionary of authorities. Now, that jewel of lexicography was cumbersome and expensive. Hence, the Academy decided to publish years later an edition devoid of the citation apparatus and simpler, which saw the light in 1780: the Dictionary of the Spanish language reduced to one volume for easier use. Actually, it was the first academic dictionary as we know it today, and reached a print run of 3,000 copies. The following edition, the second, saw the light in 1783; but David Prieto García-Seco (Madrid, 45 years old), professor of Spanish Language at the University of Murcia, has discovered that a corrected reprint had been edited between the two, published in 1781, which for two and a half centuries has never been detected by the radar of lexicographers. This reveals a secret and adds a mystery: why some of its obvious improvements were not maintained later?

The 1781 reprint (although dated 1780 on the title page) corrects typos, adds or deletes numerous commas, retouches spelling, changes accents, and eliminates some typographical misalignments (for example, the Ñ tilde in “Real Academia Española” was a slightly displaced on the cover of the first printing).

“Pasqüa” remains in “Pasqua”, and “obliqümente” also loses the umlaut. But “qüestion” (in its meaning of ‘fight’) wins it. (The spelling back then was not as settled as it is today.) “Quexarse” alters the old-fashioned X and becomes “complain”; “horizontally”, a term that appears like this, misspelled, in the entry “cabria” (‘cylinder’), is dressed with the missing axe. In turn, “liquor” becomes “liquor” (in a definition of the entry “dar”: “bathe something with some liquor”).

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“Boquirrubio” (‘which is easy to deceive’) loses its double r and remains in “boquirubio”, after “boquirasgado” (this representation of the strong r was not unusual then, and it will remain that way until 1869; but both will be changed in 1884); the word “baybel” is now written with a vve: “bayvel” (‘stonemasons’ instrument’, today “baivel”), and “churris” is corrected in “churrus” (‘fabrics with little gold’, that is, a tissue churro).

The word “cabrya” was the first clue.  David Prieto saw in his copy that Greek y (with vowel value), which did not coincide with the Latin i of the version known until now.
The word “cabrya” was the first clue. David Prieto saw in his copy that Greek y (with vowel value), which did not coincide with the Latin i of the version known until now.Pedro Martinez Rodriguez

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Words that had briefly skipped the alphabetical order are also rearranged, and definitions are retouched: “jump” is no longer “jump over others” but “another”.

The reprint found also includes a title page that will remain in the dictionaries of 1783, 1791 and 1803.

However, the academics did not complete the revision, but only reached page 320, out of a total of 955. From that page, the dictionary continued as it was.

This investigation, undertaken by Prieto in January 2021, now appears detailed in the 123 pages of his book A link retrieved from Spanish lexicography (Linguistic Viewer), which the author dedicates to Manuel Seco, a lexicographer and academic who died on December 16. The work has been prefaced by the academician Pedro Álvarez de Miranda, director of David Prieto’s doctoral thesis, dedicated to the lexicon of Tirso de Molina.

Know what is selling or not know it

Professor Prieto, a specialist in the history of lexicon and lexicography, tells by phone from his university that he has two copies of the 1780 dictionary at home. He bought the first one from a private individual in 2020 through Walapop, and paid 1,200 euros (after a starting position of 1,500). The second got it in 2021 after seeing it at a good price on the portal Todocollection: 70 euros. (It is the difference between knowing what is selling and not knowing it).

Some time later, when he was using the supposedly identical edition available on the Academy website (more manageable for searches) for one of his works, Prieto realized that the word “cabrya” in one of his copies (the y Greek in this case with vowel value) was reflected as “cabrería” in the digital (which, on the other hand, made more sense and should not have been changed in the reprint).

First page of the 1781 reprint.
First page of the 1781 reprint.Pedro Martinez Rodriguez

From there, he began to collate and discovered that the book he was holding in his hand, the one that had cost him 1,200 euros, was an unknown reprint; and that the other, that of 70 euros, corresponded to the first and until that moment the only print run that was known, and also to the digital version. How much will the reprint be worth now, once its discovery is known? David Prieto responds by phone: “Of course, I would not sell it for the price I paid.”

That second printing reached 4,000 copies, according to what can be deduced from the minutes of the Academy consulted later by Prieto, who also followed the trail of the reprint.

And why did the Academy hide it then? The professor replies: “No, it cannot be considered that the Academy hid it. Although it had seen the light in the first months of March 1781 and it was a different issue from the first printing, the year 1780 was kept on the cover. As the second edition was published immediately, in 1783, what was left for the Academy was the idea that there was only one version of the first edition of the Dictionary, when in fact there was an improved reprint.”

To that disappearance three circumstances would later contribute to the story: the fact that the seven copies of that dictionary kept in the Royal Academy correspond to the first print run; that the 1991 facsimile edition was published from one of them, and, more recently, that digital access through the Academy’s website, since 2001, also leads to the original version and not to the second.

In addition, the bibliographical catalogs specialized in the 18th century only give an account of the first printing, as do the records of Spanish and foreign libraries and archives that have copies of the one published in 1780. As if that were not enough, the printers took good care that the number of pages was the same (953 in both, although they actually added up to 955 because the numbering of two of them is repeated in both versions).

However, a retrospective look at these catalogues, once the hidden version is known, allows us to find some data for bibliophiles that allow us to deduce that certain libraries and archives keep copies of the new version. For example, the existence of the front cover in the reprint or the position occupied by the “errata”: at the beginning in the version known to date, and after the dictionary in the reprint found. With these data, David Prieto has verified that some copies of this hitherto unknown reprint as such are found in the New York Public Library, in the Lyon Municipal Library, in the Madrid Student Residence or in the Central Library of the University of Navarra.

However, something remains to be seen: what was the reason why some of the 1781 corrections that clearly improved the 1780 work were not kept in the next edition, that of 1783 (70% survived). For example, the “absorbing” of Authorities and from 1780 corrected to “absorb” for reprint. But in the next edition he would return with the vee contrary to the etymology of the word. And that will not change… until 1832! (passing by the editions of 1791, 1803, 1817 and 1822). All good research provokes new questions, and this one remains pending; but at least those who have committed that fault now will be able to claim that they also committed it, and repeatedly, the academics of two centuries ago.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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