500 mistakesI’m currently analysing the entries in Five Hundred Mistakes of Daily Occurrence (1856), one of the earliest Americn usage guides (though not the earliest one, as I thought before), for a paper I’m giving on the topic at the 5th Late Modern English Conference in Bergamo in August. The entris include some really amazing ones, such as the following:

“He talks pulpitically:” this word, which some who copy Chesterfield persist in using, has never by any good authority been admitted into the language (p. 50).

Checking the word in the OED shows that it is actually listed there, as a derivative of the adjective pulpitical (does that mean it was admitted into the language after all?). But it only has one example, from Chesterfield (1694-1773):

1751 Ld. Chesterfield Let. Mar. (1932) (modernized text) IV. 1690 To proceed then regularly and pulpitically; I will first show you, my beloved [etc.].

How frequent was the word to begin with, if the OED was only able to cite the one example that links the word to Chesterfield (and note that the word is labelled “Obs. rare”). And, more mysteriously still, how would Walton Burgess, the author of Five Hundred Mistakes, have learnt about its existence? The quotation from Chesterfield dates from an edition from 1932. So could he have used another usage guide for this?

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