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"Artifact" Is Not in the Dictionary (Though "Gullible" Is):

Not in the Oxford English Dictionary, that is to say. I was quite surprised to see that; the reason, I take it, is that the British spelling is "artefact," but my sense is that the OED is usually quite good at including the American spellings, and a quick search through British newspapers shows that even they use "artifact" on occasion. Let this be a reminder that even the most reputable sources have glitches; better to check two sources rather than relying on any one.

Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I'm not sure whether you want to call this a "glitch." I don't think it's the OED's practice to have more than one entry per "word."

So for instance, "color" and "colour" are in the same entry, which is called "colour, color" (I'm looking at OED.com), and typing in "color" gets you that entry.

This seems to be true even if the spelling is in the "spellings" section -- which gives a pretty exhaustive list of alternate spellings -- but not in the title. So, for instance, typing "thurgh" gets you "through" (the noun, obsolete Scottish meaning "trough") and "throughout" (where the spellings section includes the medieval "þurgh" and the search engine recognizes the þ/th equivalence).

There's a "glitch" in that "thurgh" doesn't get you "through." I think this is because all the alternate spellings aren't in the "spellings" section but in the "forms" section. (The "spellings" section only has the alternate spelling "thro'." The "forms" section has a bit list, but searching for those, say "þorh," doesn't get you "through" either.) So that's a glitch in the way the OED organizes its fields. It probably hasn't ironed out everything yet in the switch to electronic form.

Anyway, on to "artefact." The spelling section only says "Also arti-". So, because of that, a search for "artifact" won't pick it up.

So it's not a glitch in the sense that the OED doesn't "recognize" the spelling -- if you look up "artefact," you do get the right answer.

But you could think of it as two kinds of searchability glitches. First, there's the practice of not putting a separate entry for common alternate spellings -- a problem in the low-tech paper version of the dictionary. Second, there's the limited capability of the electronic search engine, which only looks for direct matches in the spelling section, combined with a non-exhaustive list of complete alternate spellings in the spelling section.
9.4.2008 4:03pm
wilkeson (mail):
Hmm, Google has 3.3m results for artefact and 15.3m for artifact. And being that google is the new end-all be-all reference I think it's safe to say that the OED is officially obsolete.
9.4.2008 4:31pm
Splunge:
I think it's safe to say that the OED is officially obsolete.

Sure, in the same (silly) sense that because Wikipedia is the first place a million high-school physics students go for a simple explanation of E = mc^2, all those heavy monographs on relativity by physicists, read by a mere handful of their peers, are "officially obsolete."

Or were you thinking the only serious purpose of the OED is to define orthography?
9.4.2008 4:35pm
teqjack (mail):
Sasha, OK, that makes sense - if somewhat limiting.

I must I do not actually regard the OED as the absolute last word for the language since a discussion a few years back over its strangely Bowdlerized version for derivation of the "bloody" adjective. An Elizabethan street gang? Fie!
9.4.2008 4:39pm
Guest 2L:
The 1971 edition has a full entry for "artifact," with "also arte-," and has an entry for "artefact" that simply notes that it's a "variant of ARTIFACT."
9.4.2008 4:44pm
JPG:
EV:"Let this be a reminder that even the most reputable sources have glitches; better to check two sources rather than relying on any one."

Let this be a reminder that even the most reputable bloggers have glitches; better to check two Volokhs rather than relying on any one. :p
9.4.2008 4:56pm
Hoosier:
These definitions and spellings are merely social constructs meant to reify the hegemonic narrative of masculinized nationalism.

In other words, the distinction is arteficial.
9.4.2008 4:59pm
Hoosier:
JPG--Brilliant!


Although highly difficult in operational terms.

If V and ~V, then . . . What?
9.4.2008 5:01pm
a knight (mail) (www):
For just online resources, I have a whole bookmark folder devoted to dictionaries (English/Foreign), etymology (which includes a direct link to Perseus-Tufts Latin/Greek), synonbyms, acronyms, etc. The first site I often use as a launching pad when researching words is: One Look Dictionary - it provides direct links to entries from multiple online dictionaries.

Here's the Online Etymology Dictionary listing for artifact:
artifact - 1821 (artefact) "anything made by human art," from It. artefatto, from L. arte "by skill" (ablative of ars "art;" see art (n.)) + factum "thing made," from facere "to make, do" (see factitious). Archaeological application dates from 1890.

Now, if there was only a competent online copy-editor widget, even half as capable as a decent secretary, I'd be set...
9.4.2008 5:20pm
Plastic:

If V and ~V, then . . . What?

Preposterous! V is an indisputable premise!
9.4.2008 5:24pm
a knight (mail) (www):
@ Hoosier - If V and ~V

A high probability that this would be best described as a gestalt; with a value range between:
V+V AND V^2
9.4.2008 5:29pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
JPG: It's always safest to rely on Sasha; his brother is only a fallback.
9.4.2008 5:38pm
Hoosier:
a knight--Now I'm gonna hafta dig out my copy of Langer. Because I have no idea what that means anymore. (I was a philosophy major, and my program was analytic. But that was a long time ago.)

EV--Thanks for the clarification. But if it should turn out that Sasha is wrong--just engaging in hypotheticals here--can we trust you as the fallback? Or must we turn to the Magic Eight Ball?
9.4.2008 5:51pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Hoosier: I see no need for engaging in completely implausible hypotheticals. Sasha knows everything.
9.4.2008 6:57pm
John T. (mail):

my sense is that the OED is usually quite good at including the American spellings


Also note that Oxford's house style is to always prefer the traditional English "-ize" over the Continental-influenced "-ise," even though the "-ise" spellings are generally seen as "British" and the "-ize" as "American" spellings.
9.4.2008 8:02pm
ahendo10 (mail) (www):
Splunge: Don't be so quick to discount the authority of the teeming masses. Descriptivist Linguists frequently refer to the Google to help gauge how frequently language is used in practice. Granted, it's imperfect, as Google can't hear your words (yet). Even if someone with a PHD who works for the OED says something is or isn't a word, to the majority of linguists what really matters is how people actually use the language.
9.4.2008 8:12pm
egrim (mail):

These definitions and spellings are merely social constructs meant to reify the hegemonic narrative of masculinized nationalism.


Hoosier, are you the author of the other parody of postmodern lingo on the Volokh Conspiracy in the last day or two? Anyway, you've got it dialed in. Made me laugh.
9.4.2008 8:46pm
MigraineFormula:
ahendo10 --

Linguists are, as a discipline, focused on the ephemeral spoken word. If you want a proper authority on the written word, you should seek out a philologist.
9.4.2008 9:16pm
Hoosier:
egrim: "Hoosier, are you the author of the other parody of postmodern lingo on the Volokh Conspiracy in the last day or two?"

To answer would be to privilege authorial "intent" over other equally valid readings of the text.
9.5.2008 12:29am