History of DOST

This short history of DOST is an abbreviated version of that by M G Dareau which appeared in the 12th and final volume of DOST, published in 2002.

Phase I 1919-1948
Phase II 1948-1981
Phase III 1981-1994
Phase IV 1994-2001
After DOST

PHASE I 1919-1948 Top

On 4th April 1919, Dr (later Sir) William A. Craigie, co-editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), read a paper entitled ‘New Dictionary Schemes’ to the Philological Society in London. In this paper he suggested that, following the completion of OED, a number of supplementary dictionary projects should be undertaken. These he referred to as ‘period dictionaries’, each being concerned with a discrete chronological period in the history of English. His last suggested scheme was not exactly of a period of English but the dictionary that, one might surmise, lay closest to his heart, a dictionary of the ‘older Scottish.’ This proposal bore fruit as A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue.

There seems never to have been any doubt in Craigie’s mind that this dictionary of Scots should cover only the period up to 1700. He conceded that, in this earlier period, Scots was a language, but had no notion that such nomenclature might continue to have any truth or even advantage after 1700.

It is evident that Craigie had the dictionary of Older Scots in mind well before his paper of 1919. He had already set out his thoughts for the future of Scottish lexicography in 1916, in a letter to Dr William Grant, the first editor of the Scottish National Dictionary (SND), in which he referred to ‘an enormous amount of material which could be used for the purpose…’ in the collections made for the Oxford Dictionary. This collection of Scottish material consisted of some hundreds of thousands of slips, both used and unused, excerpted for OED.

Craigie set to work seriously on DOST in 1921, and began to expand the material inherited from OED. In the winter of 1925-6, he began editing. In 1929 an Agreement was drawn up between Craigie and the University of Chicago, where he was now Professor of English, for the publication of ‘A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue’. According to this agreement the University of Chicago would ‘publish the said work at its own expense.’

In 1931 the first fascicle of the Dictionary was published. Volume I was completed in 1937 and Volume II came out in fascicles between 1938 and 1951.

PHASE II 1948-1981 Top

Craigie retired from his position at the University of Chicago in 1936, although he continued to edit material for DOST. This continued until the appointment of Adam J. Aitken in 1948. Aitken was 27 when he took up this post and remained with DOST for the rest of his career.

From the late 1940s on there was a series of financial crises, due to the increasing scale of the dictionary, the resulting rise in costs and the failure to attract outside funding. In 1951 the matter was brought before the Scottish Universities’ Conference by Edinburgh University. The timing of this was provoked not only by the situation with DOST but that of the Scottish National Dictionary (SND) which was undergoing a financial crisis of its own in Aberdeen.

One of the outcomes of this initiative was the setting up in 1952 of the Joint Council for the Scottish Dictionaries with Angus McIntosh, Professor of English Language and Linguistics at Edinburgh University as its Convener. In 1955 Aitken took over from Craigie as editor of DOST and by the close of this period its funding and government had altered radically. DOST had become for management purposes a department of Edinburgh University, which also provided accommodation. DOST was overseen by the Joint Council representing the four Scottish Universities and funded in part by them and in part by a variety of charitable foundations. Two years later Craigie, a notable scholar in many fields, died at the age of ninety.
Aitken was the sole Editor until, in 1973, Dr J.A.C. Stevenson was appointed Joint-Editor with him.

The expectation was that DOST might be completed in 1976, shortly after the scheduled completion of SND. After SND was completed, there were a number of proposals for the future. One suggestion was a project to produce an abridged dictionary,which led ultimately to the publication of the Concise Scots Dictionary (CSD). In 1980 the Universities threatened withdrawal of support for DOST if a firm end date were not established, and suggested that there would be no further support after 1988.

In the meantime Chicago University Press withdrew as publisher in 1981, due the scale of the Dictionary having at least doubled compared with what was originally envisaged.

DOST’s financial predicament produced an outcry of complaint from a range of eminent scholars, in the form of an open letter reported on the front page of the Scotsman. This was sufficient to ensure the continuation of the editing, albeit with no guarantee that funding would continue beyond the working lives of the present staff. Indeed, part of the package of 1981 was that after the retirement of Stevenson in 1985 and Aitken in 1986 the Universities would support only two posts, one editor and one editorial assistant.

In 1983 Aberdeen University Press (AUP)were granted the right to publish the rest of DOST. They installed a microcomputer in the DOST offices and from then until 1994 edited copy with a minimal level of tagging was prepared for printing in-house and recorded for the first time in electronic form.

PHASE III 1981-1994 Top

The 1980s had started inauspiciously and promised worse with the imminent retirement of both the editors. Aitken retired in January 1983 and was re-appointed, part-time, as a University Fellow. Stevenson became Editor-in-chief in December 1983. When Aitken retired in 1986, the editorial staff consisted of two editors, one of whom was part-time.

In 1984 the charitable organisation The Friends of the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue was set up to help with fund raising. By the end of the decade they had raised enough money to maintain a part-time editor and a full-time editorial assistant/editor.

H D Watson became Editor-in-chief on Stevenson’s retirement. In 1993 the collapse of AUP added renewed publication difficulties to DOST’s other problems, which were resolved with a return to OUP. This seemed to bode well for the final stage of DOST and there was a hope that the publication of the paper version might lead on to an electronic version similar to the electronic OED.

PHASE IV 1994-2001 Top

In November 1993 it was suggested to the Convener of the Joint Council that a completion time of 12 years would be necessary for the remaining unedited material. This prompted a review of the editorial methods and management of DOST in relation to the completion costs of the project.

The review was carried out in March 1994. Its aims were:

  1. to fix a firm date for completion and make recommendations on how this might be achieved;
  2. to examine the organisation and working practices of the staff, and editorial policy;
  3. to make recommendations concerning staffing levels, and to consider replacement or addition of equipment.

It was also proposed that funding might be easier to obtain if a completion date of 2000 were to be guaranteed. However, it was unanimously agreed that the DOST published post-review must maintain the quality of that published before. It was hoped that the time saving required on the production side would be made largely by employing a data-entry agency to key the edited copy from slips. A trial demonstrated the practicality of this approach and a contract was agreed covering the keying and three phases of corrections for some 180,000 citation slips.

An important consequence of keying the material at a relatively early stage in the process was the ability to sort the quotations electronically. However, the challenge of speeding up the editing still remained.

As soon as the letter S was completed in 1994 a calculation was made, dividing the time available by the work to be done. This crude calculation gave a target editing rate which would have to be achieved, and then sustained over the six year period to 2000. New editing guidelines were instituted and tested, which showed that the target was achievable but challenging; there was certainly very little slack in the system.

By the end of 1994, Professor William Gillies of the University of Edinburgh had been appointed Project Manager. Mr William Aitken took on responsibility for the budget. The quality and size of the team was also critical. It consisted of the three full-time editors and one full-time and two part-time editorial assistants. The team combined size and experience to a greater degree than at any time in the past.

In 1996 a follow-up review took place, and the reviewers reported that they were favourably impressed with progress, and that the target completion date remained at 2000. As a result, the Universities affirmed their willingness to fund the project to completion. The funding situation was somewhat eased in 1999 by grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Editing was completed in December 2000 and all copy finally dispatched to OUP by mid-July 2001. The final part of DOST was published in 2002, 83 years after Craigie presented his paper to the Philological Society.

After DOST Top

As completion approached, the DOST Team and the Joint Council thought more about what would come after DOST. A Colloquium of representatives of all of DOST’s user groups was asked to contribute to a discussion of Scottish lexicography at the beginning of the twenty-first century. One of the results of this was that a Liaison Group was set up to further co-operation between DOST and SND. As a result an application was made to the AHRB for funds to digitise DOST and SND and make them available online. This was the genesis of DSL Online.

Thus it is with the sense of coming full circle that we recall Craigie’s hope that DOST and SND, although dealing with the language in different ways, might be organised so as to allow the connections between the older language and the modern to be clarified. The creation of DSL Online would no doubt have given him enormous satisfaction.