nancylebov (nancylebov) wrote,

Bon bons: The OED writes back

> From: Nancy Lebovitz
> Sent: 26 January 2008 17:44
> To: OED3
> Subject: Bon bons
> I recently asked about bon bons on my blog, and found a range of candies
> and definitions which aren't covered by your definition. Most people seem
> to think a bon bon is a particular sort of candy (though they don't
> necessarily agree on what sort), rather than just any confection.
> I regret that I don't have paper sources, but bon bons have been around
> long enough that it may not be too hard to find them.
> Nancy Lebovitz
> P.S. Is there any hope you'll offer single word look-up for about $3?
> I'd pay that.

From: Nancy Lebovitz
Sent: 28 January 2008 14:36
To: OED3
Subject: RE: Bon bons

> Thank you for your message. You do need to bear in mind that the OED
> entry was written a very long time ago, for the first edition of the
> dictionary, and has hardly been touched since. We shall look carefully
> at the accumulated evidence when we come to rewrite the entry. In
> British English, BON-BON used on its own tends to have a very general
> sense ('a sweet'), and particular varieties are indicated by a
> qualifying word: TOFFEE BON-BON, for example - hard to find now, but a
> great treat in my youth.

Thanks for getting back to me. I was beginning to wonder if part of the
problem was a difference between British and American English.

"Bon-bon" is a small thing, but it's somehow brought home to me some of
what a huge project it is to keep track of definitions of English words.
It's not just keeping up with new words, it's that the old words won't
stay put.

> As for your suggestion about single-word look-up, we have tried to find
> a cost-effective way of making this available, and failed. In the UK
> the entire public library network has a corporate subscription to the
> OED (and our other online products), which gives library users free
> access, often from home.

Thanks for trying, and that's a very nice feature of living in the UK.

May I quote your email as part of my online discussion?

Nancy Lebovitz


> I suppose it's a mixed metaphor to call bon-bons a can of worms, but
> regional differences in usage are a real problem for us, on top of
> temporal shifts. You are welcome to quote me!

Thoughts not in email:

It hit me that the US isn't the only ex-colony with divergent English. I bet trying to keep track of Indian English is a huge job.

dcseain told me that access to the OED comes with a Maryland library card, but I don't know if it's only at a library, or if it can be done from home. The Maryland library card only costs $15/year for non-residents, a much better deal than $30/month or $295/year for getting an OED subscription.

I'm surprised they couldn't find a way to make $3/word work for them. Any theories about why that would be hard?

"Bon bon" has the most fractured meaning of any word I know-- I suspect it's a combination of it being rather rarely used but still having an attractive aura which makes it look commercially valuable, so it gets attached to a number of different candies, not to mention Christmas crackers.

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