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The Dictionary People

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Robert Charles Hope, inventor of the crank used to adjust the tension on a tennis net, is among thousands of readers who in the late 19th century responded to a call from the Oxford English Dictionary to send in citations for notable words they encountered. He provided the dictionary’s first citation for filching, which means “pilfering,” and the first for the verb jaunt, meaning “to make a horse prance up and down.” Linguist and lexicographer Sarah Ogilvie tells the stories of many of them in her delightful book, The Dictionary People: The Unsung Heroes Who Created the Oxford English Dictionary (Amazon | Bookshop). Incidentally, Robert Charles Hope likely used the word spharistike, an old word for the game of tennis, later replaced with the name lawn tennis. This is part of a complete episode.

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