Preface to the Third Edition

Most people know the wry definition of "lexicographer" that Samuel Johnson (1709–1784) included in his Dictionary of the English Language , viz., "a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the figurification of words."Fewer perhaps are familiar with the words of the great classicist, Joseph Scaliger (1540–1609), which likely worked to influence Johnson's definition, that "the worst criminals should be neither executed nor sentenced to forced labor, but should be condemned to compile dictionaries, because all tortures are included in the work." Drudgery and torture, not an appealing combination.

There is, however, an apt quotation from Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) that provides fairer purpose than either Scaliger or Johnson. Hobbes said, "Seeing that truth consisteth in the right ordering of names (i.e., words) in our affirmations, a man that seeketh precise truth had need to remember what every name he uses stands for, and to place it accordingly—or else he will find himself entangled in words, as a bird in lime-twigs—the more he struggles, the more belimed."The vivid image of Hobbes’s word-entangled belimed bird may also call to mind the booktitle Caught in the Web of Words, the admirable biography of James Murray (1837-1915), founding author of the Oxford English Dictionary. It seems that the snares of dictionary-making are usually referred to more often than the joys. But there are delights as well as miseries, and I have felt oddly privileged and content, first to have compiled this dictionary and then to continue adding to, and I hope improving, it in the years that have followed its first appearance.

The sentiment behind Hobbes's adjuration "to remember what every name stands for, and to place it accordingly" is rather similar to Confucius’s urging to zhengming 正名, or "get the names/words right." Which itself inevitably reminds one of the classicsaying from the Xicizhuan 繫辭傳, that "words do not get to the end of meaning" 言不盡義. Though that realization be ultimately incontrovertible, words are what we have, and we must take care to employ them as keenlyas possible. Absent language well and properly used, we struggle to make lucid sense of how we interpret the world in which we live and to communicate our thoughts to others.

When overhearing in these latter days the words of authors from premodern China, our attention must be even more closely focused than in our native tongue, whatever that may be.And aid can come in many forms. Some people have told me they consult this dictionary not only to discover meanings but also as a thesaurus. This indeed satisfies one of its chief goals—to give help and guidance about how to understand and translate a word in various local environments. Since no language's semantics coincide equally with another's, an etymological dictionary (which has its own specific and valuable importance) can provide but minimal assistance when attempting to make sense of a connected text. The etymon is only where a single word's meaning starts. To think it is always an exact or sufficient description is to think that the overflowing goblet 濫觴, traditionally illustrating the source of the Yellow River, fully defines the waterway's whole course as it swells, veers, and advances through a thousand miles of diverse landscapes.

I have known individuals who, when discussing interpretations of texts, will declare with unbending conviction that "word X always means Y." That is not, however, how languages work in actual usage on the page—much less in an author's mind. A particular spelled word, or in Chinese a discrete graph, may always look the same orthographically, but it means differently as it turns a different aspect of itself to the fore in different contexts. Being alert to semantic range and to varying possibilities of contextual meaning is crucial in attaining a more mature understanding of a language. This is why memorizing vocabulary lists is an exercise of benefit for beginners only.

This third edition of the dictionary you have in hand contains over a thousand revisions and additions to the second edition's definitions, as well as dozens of wholly new entries. Whereas for the second edition the léger de main of the typesetters managed, despite many changes, to retain the same pagination as the first edition, in this new version the changes are of such a number and extent that a complete repagination and resetting of the text has been done. This of course includes an updating of the index.

Of the good people at Brill, two must specially be acknowledged. I most happily reiterate and renew my continuing thanks to Albert Hoffstädt, advocate for excellence in scholarship and for the bonae litterae in life, without whom this third edition would have remained simply the scribblings disfiguring my desk-copy of the second edition. For necessary assistance in effecting the production of this volume, I also wish to thank Eleonora Capaccioni, who handled all manner of technical computer issues and frustrations with supreme competence and good grace, even when the darkness seemed impenetrable.

And as ever, in the end my deepest and daily gratitude is to my wife, Amy Strickland, indispensable partner and dear companion.

Paul W. Kroll
16 August 2021


Citation
“ ” Brill’s Chinese Reference Library. Brill Online, 2023. Reference. . 29 Sep 2023 < >