But the OED has a policy against word deletion that sets it apart from other dictionaries, which frequently remove antiquated words to make room for new ones, since, obviously, language is an ever-evolving thing. I spoke to Michael Adams, an associate professor at Indiana University and President Elect of the Dictionary Society of North America, who told me, "I have a great deal of respect for Sarah Ogilvie." (He added that this story about OED "deletions" is not new at all—articles about it came out in advance of the book as far back as in 2008. "I've known about it for a good long time," he said, "though probably to the [non-dictionary] world this is still news.") This no-deletion policy is part of what makes the story "scandalous." At the OED, you add or revise but don't delete whole entries. That's an astonishing rule," to which most other dictionaries don't abide, due to the constraints of manageable print editions and selling copies. "The news that words have been deleted from Webster or the American Heritage dictionary wouldn't be shocking; it's a necessity," he says. "You review the material, find entries that are the weakest, and evaluate those weak entries against the strengths of the new entries editors want to add. You can maybe trim encyclopedic information, but sooner or later, entries have to go."
Yet, as Ogilvie writes, "If a word gets into the OED, it never leaves. If it becomes obsolete, we put a dagger beside it, but it never leaves." Burchfield's actions, then, could be seen as rule-breaking in two ways: One, through the act of "deletion," and two, that the words he omitted were of foreign linguistic influences, making him appear "Anglocentric": "from the OED's beginnings, it was considered to be a dictionary of the English language, not merely a dictionary written by and for the people of England," per Flood, quoting Ogilvie. (Burchfield also added curse words to the dictionary, which is, in this case at least, something no one's bothered about.)
"If you're going to omit, what are you going to omit, and is there a cultural effect?" asks Adams. "That doesn't have to do with the merits of one word or another but would reflect the cultural perspective of the editor. Did Burchfield have biases? There might be occasions when [he] decided a word had never been naturalized and the inclusion in the OED was adventurous. You could argue that in some of these cases very well." But, he adds, "If you're being fair about it, why is it that partially naturalized words bear the brunt of this deletion? If the OED isn't supposed to be omitting but decided to, why would it be the fruits of contact with other languages and not made-up words from the 16th centry that never saw future use?"
The OED issued a statement yesterday on the matter, which we've excerpted below:
“Former Chief Editor Robert Burchfield, himself a New Zealander, was insistent that the dictionary should expand its coverage of international words in English, and although he omitted minor terms from the Supplement which he was revising and extending, he added many thousands of more fully researched international entries.
“It was nearly two decades ago, when the editorial policy of the third edition of the OED was being formulated, that it was decided that the small number of items which had been omitted from the 1933 Supplement while it was being revised by Robert Burchfield and his staff, on the grounds that they were at that time considered marginal, should appear in the new edition."
"What Burchfield did was not deletion, it was editing," adds Sheidlower in the New Yorker. "Despite the size of Burchfield’s Supplements, he was under severe space constraints, constantly fending off demands to cut back from Oxford University Press, concerned with the rising costs and receding deadlines, and it was hard to justify carrying over seemingly unimportant words from the 1933 Supplement for a new work that was meant to stand on its own." Further, "Burchfield’s task was not to revise the 1933 Supplement, which would always be available for consultation, but to produce a new work, extending the entire O.E.D., with relevant material included from the 1933 Supplement as necessary." Sheidlower adds, "Burchfield 'absorbed most, but not all' of the 1933 Supplement into his volumes, as the historian of lexicography Charlotte Brewer has written, and this was not 'covert' in any way