UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Dictionary Joyce : a lexicographical study of James Joyce and the Oxford English Dictionary Chenier, Natasha Rose


The similarities between James Joyce’s Ulysses and the Oxford English Dictionary are numerous and striking: both texts aim to encapsulate the meaning of nearly everything in the English-speaking world. Both are epic in scope to an unprecedented degree. Both make countless references to other works, and explicitly absorb much of the preceding literature. Both aim to set new creative and intellectual standards. Of course politically, the works are vastly different. Due to the pervasive opinions of the time, to which language scholars were not immune, the OED’s scope was limited to what was considered reputable literary language. While the OED aimed to document the (morally acceptable) established lexis, Joyce aimed to challenge and redefine it; he broke with tradition in frequently using loan words, as well as radically re-defining many of the standard words he used. He also invented entirely new ones. Moreover, he used English words to describe taboo subject matter, which is why the text was effectively banned from most of the English-speaking world until the mid-1930s. Joyce’s liberalism with language and subject matter excluded him from the OED for several decades. Despite their differences, Chapter One of this thesis aims to suggest that the writing of Ulysses was in many ways inspired and assisted by the OED. Equally of interest as Joyce’s use of the OED and other dictionaries in his writing process is the OED’s representation of Joyce. While the first edition of the OED (1928) does not cite James Joyce, nor, to our knowledge, does its 1933 supplement, OED2 (1989) adds over 1,800 Joyce citations. Whereas OED3 (2000-) currently features 2,408 Joyce citations, many of those from OED2 have been removed for reasons that are unclear. Joyce is an example of the changeable place of modernist literature in the OED. While Chapter One looks at Joyce and his creative process in connection with the OED, the central focus of Chapter Two is the OED’s treatment of Joyce (and/or lack thereof) over the course of three editions and more than a century.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada