The unprecedented difficulty of B(e)

A dictionary is in indeed a collection of stories and each word entry has a unique tale to tell. If we choose the verb 'be', we encounter a special insight into English, and into the society and
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A dictionary is in indeed a collection of stories. Each word entry has a unique tale to tell. Whichever word we choose, we find ourselves engaging with the story of the language as a whole. And if we choose be, we encounter a special insight into English, and into the society and thought that has shaped it over the past 1,500 years. My title for this post, the unprecedented difficulty of B(e) is an adaptation of Peter Gilliver’s remark, in The Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (p. 197), when he describes James Murray’s ‘pain and vexation’ at criticism of his rate of progress at the beginning of letter B. Be is not the only item mentioned in Murray’s listing of the complicated words in this section of the alphabet, but it must surely have been the main lexical mountain he had to climb at that point. Or at any point? With its various historical antecedents (seen in am/is, are/art, be/being/been, and was/were/wert), ‘Be’ has more variant forms (1,812. . .

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News source: Linguistics – OUPblog

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