Document 839

The History and Development of DOST

Author(s): Marace Dareau

Copyright holder(s): Marace Dareau: Reproduced with the kind permission of Edinburgh University Press


The Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (DOST) is a great store of treasures for the researcher or the merely curious. Its twelve volumes, as well as offering a unique point of entry to Scottish medieval and renaissance society, form a substantial monument to many years of scholarship throughout the twentieth century and, in the development of the ideas that underpin it, a bridge to the twenty-first. Yet its history has its share of precarious moments. This account of that history (1) seeks to record these moments along with the powerful sense of purpose and endeavour that informed the production of the dictionary and was expressed in the dedication chosen for volume XII: 'To Scots everywhere, lovers and students of the Scots language and all those who have given freely of their time and knowledge to help achieve the completion of this work'.

DOST was compiled between 1925 and 2001 according to the historical principles laid down in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). During the first phase, a methodology based on that of the OED was established. This chapter is divided into four main sections identified as those periods which saw substantial innovations affecting the text of the published dictionary. It includes an outline of the external history as well as those aspects of editorial policy which most closely impinge on the external history. (2) The final phase deals with the years 1994-2001, outlining the accelerated completion of DOST in July of the latter year.

This survey is based on evidence of three sorts: materials in print, chiefly in the Prefaces of the volumes of the dictionary and the writings of Sir William Craigie and Professor A. J. Aitken; official papers, principally the minutes of the Joint Council for the Scottish Dictionaries (subsequently, the Joint Council for the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue); and private writings, especially correspondence held in the DOST Archive, now in the archives of the University of Edinburgh. In the last two categories, we are extremely fortunate to have a file of correspondence and official papers from the period 1949-58 contributed to the Archive by Professor Angus McIntosh.


On 4th April 1919 Dr (later Sir) William A. Craigie, co-editor of the 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 did not conform to the description of a period of English, but was, perhaps, the dictionary that lay closest to his heart, a dictionary of the 'older Scottish'. This proposal bore fruit as the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue.

There seems never to have been any doubt in Craigie's mind that this dictionary of Scots should restrict itself to the earlier period – up to 1700. He saw the project as lying within his plans for English, and the major sweep of English had been encompassed in OED. He conceded that, in the earlier period, Scots was a language, but had no notion that such nomenclature might continue to have any truth or even advantage after 1700. He saw the language as dividing naturally into the two periods now defined by DOST and the Scottish National Dictionary (SND).

"The older Scottish tongue … Considered by itself it is a very definite thing, beginning with the fourteenth century, flourishing as a literary medium from about 1375 to 1600, and maintaining a precarious existence in writing till towards the close of the seventeenth century, when a new period definitely sets in and continues unbroken down to the present day." (Craigie 1931: 9)

In a letter to Dr William Grant, the first Editor of SND, in January 1916, Craigie had already set out his thoughts for the future of Scottish lexicography:

"It is certainly well to be looking ahead with regard to the Scottish dictionary. I have been doing so too, and have made up my mind that when the Oxford Dictionary is finished, I shall undertake the Old Scottish one myself … Some time ago I asked Watson (3) whether, in the event of funds being provided for the Modern Scottish dictionary, he would be prepared to take a hand in the compiling of it … It would be excellent if the two Dictionaries could be produced concurrently, so that the one could link up with the other and the continuity (or otherwise) of the words be clearly shown. In that case Watson might be a kind of connecting medium for both. (DOST Archive)

It is thus evident that Craigie had the dictionary of older Scots in mind well before his paper of 1919 and had also begun planning the collection of the materials he would need at this time. In the same letter to Grant he outlines his thoughts on that crucial aspect of successful lexicography:

"In the collections made for the Oxford Dictionary there is an enormous amount of material which could be used for the purpose, and I shall arrange to have the use of this. Some further collecting may be wanted, but nothing to what would be necessary if the whole work had to be done from the beginning."

This collection of Scottish material consisted of some hundreds of thousands of citation slips, both used and unused, excerpted for OED.

Craigie set to work seriously on what was to become DOST in 1921, when, with the help of a number of volunteer readers, he began to expand the collection of quotations inherited from OED. In the winter of 1925-6, with the assistance of George Watson and Otto Schmidt, he began editing from the collections thus far available to him. By this time he had become Professor of English in the University of Chicago. In 1929 a Memorandum of Agreement was drawn up between Craigie and the University of Chicago for the publication of 'A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue', which would be printed in Oxford by Oxford University Press (OUP). The first fascicle of the dictionary was published in 1931. Volume I (A-C), in six fascicles, was completed in 1937 and Volume II (D-G) in 1951. At this time the preparation and production of the published work seems to have consisted largely of excerpting and editing without the systematic press-preparation that became part of the production process at a later date. The Agreement of 1929 stated that the dictionary would be completed in twenty-five parts of 120 pages each.


The work of editing continued very largely under the editorship of Craigie alone until the appointment of Adam J. Aitken in 1948. Craigie had retired in 1936, returning from Chicago to Watlington, near Oxford, where he continued to edit material for DOST. Aitken, as Craigie's assistant, was based in Edinburgh and funded from year to year as a Research Fellow by the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. With the appointment of Aitken the second major period in the history of the project had begun.

Aitken was a young man of twenty-seven when he took up the post in which he was to spend the rest of his career, not that this seemed inevitable or even particularly likely in the beginning. For a number of years he was employed on temporary contracts, renewed annually, a fact that disturbed Angus McIntosh, Forbes Professor of English Language and General Linguistics in the University of Edinburgh, who was concerned for both the welfare of Aitken and the long-term interests of the dictionary. However the delicacy of relations with Chicago University Press was such that no plans for the longer-term security of either Aitken or the dictionary were feasible at this time. If relations with Chicago were to break down it would lead almost inevitably to the abandonment of the dictionary project.

Early financial problems

Although DOST continued to be published by Chicago University Press until 1981, there were during that period a number of crises, the first of which occurred in 1950. In 1949 Craigie had written to Mr Hemens, Assistant Director of the Press, to inform him that it had become clear that the dictionary could not be completed in twenty-five parts but was likely to run to ten or twelve more. Hemens replied that the Press was prepared to face the extra cost that this would entail with the assurance 'the intention of the University is to complete the publication of this work'.

In 1950, however, the situation worsened. In February Craigie alerted McIntosh to a change of attitude in Chicago due to rising costs and the failure to attract outside funding. The problem of the increase in scale of the dictionary and consequent rise in costs had led to Chicago's unwillingness to continue under the previous agreement with Craigie alone. However, in October a new contract was signed with Chicago to which the University of Edinburgh became a party. To help meet the increase in costs Edinburgh agreed to forego royalties, which would stop with the death of Craigie.

While this may have gone some way to securing the dictionary's future, the production itself was by no means secure. Over the next year Hemens continued to press for a reduction in scale. Craigie could not see this as a solution. He wrote to McIntosh in February 1951:

"This could not be done by a simple reduction in the scale; it would involve a real change of method which would greatly reduce the value of the dictionary as a record of the language, while it would not materially lessen the work of preparation." (DOST Archive)

In November Hemens reiterated his anxiety at the slow rate of production. Though he conceded the importance of the work, he could not deny that Chicago was finding publication a heavy financial burden. In a letter to Aitken of 20th November 1951 Craigie outlined his view of the requirements for an efficient, productive enterprise:

"I enclose a letter which I have this morning received from Hemens. It is unfortunate that the lack of assistance, even if temporary, will reduce the amount that can be turned out this year.
To make really satisfactory progress a staff of at least four, in addition to yourself, is required, to consist of:
Two for elementary work, getting into order of date all the material for each word, making additions from the reference slips not yet copied, abbreviating long quotations, and making a complete list of spellings.
Two sub-editors to distinguish and define the senses and either draft the etymologies or supply the material for these. They should always bear in mind the importance of keeping the scale as low as possible.
The sending on of slips for the later letters might be done by one or other of these according to the time they can spare for it." (DOST Archive)

However the ideal staff was not available and Craigie and Aitken had to struggle on as best they might. The true grimness of the situation (4) is revealed in a letter from Hemens to Craigie the following March:

"There are two areas in this financial problem where you could help. I have written about them before. In writing again I do not wish to imply that you may not be trying. However, the results are so imperceptible that I must ask you to review the matter and make a strenuous effort to do better.
We need from you a commitment and performance in line with that commitment as to the maximum total number of parts to encompass this work. When publication was undertaken it was with the expectation there would be a maximum of twenty parts. After it had been under way and a number of parts published, it was perfectly obvious that you were not keeping within that limit. Based on completion of the first approximately ten parts, it then looked as though the total would not be twenty parts, but twice that number, or more. That completely upset the financial arrangements which we had made.
The cost of alterations is the second problem …
At times it becomes discouraging and somewhat disheartening to fight for the funds necessary to keep this production and publishing program for the dictionary going. At one time, only a few years ago, I was instructed to have production stopped and cancel the order with Oxford. I wilfully disregarded those instructions. I believe we should do all that we can to complete publication of the dictionary. I still believe that. I had hopes, but that was all I could have, that something would happen to change the financial picture. Unfortunately that something has not happened and, if anything, the finances are worse.
I continue to hope that by working together, each of us possibly a little more carefully, the production of your Scottish Dictionary can continue without interruption." (DOST Archive)

However supportive Hemens might be of the project, he and Craigie differed as to the nature of an appropriate scale for such a work. It is ironic to note that our perception now is that Craigie's part of the dictionary is woefully inadequate in scale.


The need for a resolution to Craigie's proposal for securing DOST's future after his own lifetime and for the management of the project within the environs of the Scottish Universities was evident to McIntosh. His perception of the value of the project both to Scotland and to Edinburgh is clear. He worked tirelessly, using all his skills of persuasion and his contacts within the academic world to bring his vision about. Craigie had laid out his thoughts on the future of his dictionary in 1949. The situation was summarised in a letter dated 6th September 1949 from McIntosh to Charles Stewart, the Secretary of the University of Edinburgh:

"1. Sir William Craigie who is now 82 has completed about 2/5ths of the great Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue.
2. Having found that A. J. Aitken (of this University) is proving an excellent Assistant, he seems to be inclined to hand on the task to him. He believes that two or three others will be needed to help him.
3. He thinks strongly that Edinburgh (where Aitken is at present working) is the ideal place to operate the project. To encourage this, he has bequeathed all his books connected with it to the University if they will make them available to the dictionary staff (otherwise to Aberdeen, Glasgow, St Andrews in that order of preference).
I should like to make the following comments:
1. There are probably numerous technical problems, housing of material, financing, etc. which will need to be solved, but I believe that this is a magnificent opportunity for us to build still further on the linguistic side, and that Craigie is right in thinking Edinburgh is the proper place.
2. In view of Craigie's age and the advisability of having his advice in any reorganisation, I think we should go into the matter as soon as possible." (DOST Archive)

In November 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 also that of the Scottish National Dictionary (SND) which was undergoing a financial crisis of its own in Aberdeen. The outcome of this meeting is contained in a communication from the Principal of the University of Edinburgh to Hemens:

"The conference made certain recommendations:
1. That editorial work on both Dictionaries should be carried on in one University, namely, Edinburgh …
2. That a new Joint Council should be set up, representative of the four Scottish Universities and the two Dictionaries.
3. That, following this, the four Scottish Universities should together ask for adequate financial support for both ventures; and that for this purpose they should in the first place approach the Ford Foundation and subsequently, if necessary, any other potential sources of financial assistance.
The force of these proposals … is that, in making an appeal for funds, it is desirable to present the two Dictionaries as together forming a major project covering the whole field of Scottish lexicography, carried on in a properly co-ordinated manner in one place; and that an appeal by the four Scottish Universities on behalf of this work of national importance would be a more powerful means of obtaining financial assistance than an appeal by (say) the University of Edinburgh on behalf of only one of the Dictionaries.
Certain points, however, must be made clear in explanation of these proposals. Firstly, they do not imply any control of the editorial policies of the Dictionaries, or any interference by one Dictionary in the affairs of the other. It is fully appreciated that their editorial methods differ in several respects, and it is agreed that all such matters of policy should remain under the present system of separate control …
In terms of the 1950 Agreement, what we have to lay before you is this: that the Compiler (Sir William Craigie) and the Institute (the University of Edinburgh) propose now to enter into a separate Agreement with a Joint Council which will represent the four Scottish Universities, the S.N.D. Association, and the Compiler and editorial staff of the D.O.S.T. Our object in doing so is to raise funds to establish an adequate editorial staff for the D.O.S.T. and so to improve the rate of work on the dictionary; and we are confident that if this can be achieved it will help materially to lighten the task of the University of Chicago with regard to the publication of the dictionary." (DOST Archive)

So Edinburgh set out its proposal. The Scottish Universities would give what help they could with accommodation and a modicum of financial support, hoping (as it turned out, vainly) to raise most of the new funding required to create a viable project from wealthy American foundations. They would take responsibility for the production side if Chicago continued with publication, which, if all went well with the Scottish Universities' fund-raising, would no longer be a financial burden. Above all the Scottish Universities wanted to keep Chicago on board, and phrased the proposal for a Joint Council in terms they thought least likely to cause it to pull out.

It is interesting to note that, according to Craigie, the cost of publishing DOST (which Hemens found much too high) was, for setting Part XIII, 164 pages, £420 with £94 for corrections, whereas Part IV of Vol. III of SND, 134 pages, cost £1,100. At this time, as throughout its production, SND was published by the Scottish National Dictionary Association Limited and financed by subscription of its members. It was printed in Edinburgh, latterly by Constable.

The outcome of this initiative was the setting up in 1952 of the Joint Council for the Scottish Dictionaries with McIntosh as its Convener. McIntosh played a prominent role in all three major initiatives in Scottish studies of this period, the others being the creation of the Linguistic Survey of Scotland and the School of Scottish Studies. Thus, as it turned out, so far from being a time of disintegration, this was a period of both consolidation and expansion.

Dictionary production

From 1950 Craigie had begun to send materials, books and citation slips north to Aitken and in 1955, when Aitken took over from Craigie as Editor of DOST, its government and funding had altered radically. The DOST enterprise had become to all intents and purposes a department within the University of Edinburgh, overseen by the Joint Council representing the four Universities and funded in part by them, in part by a variety of charitable foundations. Two years later, in 1957, Craigie died, aged ninety. He was a notable scholar in many fields, and one of a line of extraordinary Scottish lexicographers.

The financing of an adequate level of staffing was a perennial problem. In 1952 Aitken had received a small grant of £100 from the School of Scottish Studies Committee with which he had employed a part-time assistant, Miss Iona B. MacGregor. Aitken reported to the Committee the following year:

"I have no hesitation in saying that she is well worth the 4/- [4 shillings] per hour which she is paid. Since she has arrived there has been a perceptible acceleration of the output of finished dictionary copy, which is directly attributable to her contribution." (DOST Archive)

Miss MacGregor was required to 'rough out the material for editing' which Aitken then completed. In the year for which she was contracted, he reckoned she would complete fifty of the dictionary's pages. She also reassigned citation slips to words further down the alphabet, sorting the material which had arrived from Craigie, and did some library research for Aitken. This accounted for £90 of the £100 grant. In 1953 the School Committee was not able to renew the grant. Aitken spelled out the precariousness of the situation in a letter to McIntosh:

"I understand that this year the School's allotment of money is likely to be largely used up, and also that there may be other objections to making even a small non-recurrent grant to an enterprise which is not a responsibility of the School itself." (DOST Archive)

At this point, in February 1953, Aitken applied to Dr J. R. Peddie of the Carnegie Trust for support for his assistant. His letter makes it clear that a previous application made 'some years ago' had been successful in obtaining a grant of £300. On this occasion the Trust made a grant of £150, and, equally importantly, a connection that was to be crucial to the future of the dictionary was reinforced.

In 1955, when Aitken took over as editor, Hemens, wishing reassurance as to the value of the University of Chicago Press's investment in DOST, sought an opinion from C. L. Wrenn, Fellow of Pembroke College and Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. The Press was at this time underwriting a small publishing loss and wished to ascertain whether its money was well spent. It is perhaps worth quoting some of the points that Wrenn made in his extremely full reply. After praising the relatively recent integration of the organisation of DOST into the Scottish University system, and the staff, including the two newly appointed assistant editors, Betty Hill and Hans Meier, he went on to make some general points:

"To some extent the value of the dictionary will ultimately depend on its association with the Scottish National Dictionary which is also being directed by the same Joint Dictionaries Council and there is an obvious advantage in the two Dictionaries being thus intimately related …
The Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue is a vital companion piece to the Ann Arbor Middle English Dictionary which relies on the existence of the former and has specifically excluded all Scottish material. Here again the importance of either Dictionary depends in some measure on the completion of the other …
The importance and worth of the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue will continually increase with the fuller development of Scottish studies which is being pursued, for example, by the University of Edinburgh School of Scottish Studies. As these studies come more and more to take their proper place in the picture of N.W. European culture in the Mediaeval and Renaissance periods, it will more fully come to be realized how absolutely indispensable and admirable the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue really is as a working tool." (DOST Archive)


During this period Aitken put a great deal of effort into expanding the dictionary's corpus. (5) One aspect directly affected by the enlargement of the corpus was the scale of the dictionary. This had been problematical for years and had been one of the causes for Chicago's unhappiness about the project as far back as 1949. This situation had not changed when in 1953 Aitken tried to calculate the likely number of parts in the finished Dictionary by a comparison with the size of OED. He reckoned that for A-INDENTIT each of DOST's parts of 120 pages corresponded to 376 pages of OED. This equation allowed him to calculate that, corresponding to the total of 15,487 pages in OED, DOST, when completed, would have 4,920 pages or 41 parts. Volume III (H-L), the first volume for which Aitken was responsible, was published in 1965.

The development of the infrastructure for funding and academic support and the expansion of the corpus led to an expansion of the project as a whole and set it on a new footing. The size of the staff increased, both editors who prepared edited copy and editorial assistants who carried out the various tasks required to prepare the raw slips for editing and afterwards the edited copy for the press. Aitken was the sole Editor until, in 1973, Dr James A. C. Stevenson, who had come to DOST in 1966 from a career in teaching, was appointed Joint Editor with him. In 1971 Aitken was appointed part-time Senior Lecturer in English Language in the University of Edinburgh and between that date and 1979 devoted only half of his working time to the dictionary. During this period he developed the teaching of Scots within the English Language Department and will be remembered by many for this aspect of his career.

Stevenson's meticulousness in the analysis of language was fully in keeping with the quality and attention to detail for which DOST was renowned. The attitude that the project was much more a matter of scholarship than a product to be got speedily into the market-place was characteristic of historical lexicographers from the time of Sir James Murray at least. OED's original remit, for instance, had been to restrict the etymological material included, on the grounds that it was a historical dictionary rather than an etymological one. In practice this restriction was largely ignored. Coming from this tradition, Craigie's intention was to expand the history of older Scots as fully as he could. So too in his turn Aitken saw the gaps in coverage and the need to fill them if the record of Scots up to 1700 were to be as close to exhaustive as might be. These perfectionist tendencies, which he confessed to in the paper 'DOST: How we make it and what's in it' (1981: 46) about a later situation, were always evident, and the dictionary itself is all the better for them, even if the funding bodies felt plagued by this compulsion to edit to the absolutely highest standards. Stevenson fitted into a lineage of high scholarship with ease and, through the 1970s especially, developed the highly analytical style that is so evident in the volumes from that period on.

Completion and Crisis

In 1969, Aitken expressed the hope that DOST might be completed in 1976, shortly after the scheduled completion of SND in 1974. In 1971, the year in which volume IV (M-N) was published, the fact that SND was approaching completion (it was completed in 1976) and the expectation that DOST would follow soon thereafter gave rise to a number of proposals for the future. An Institute of Lexicography dealing especially with an archive of computer-readable texts was suggested, as well as a project to produce an abridged dictionary. The Joint Council took the view that exploration of the former proposal should not be allowed to have a prejudicial effect on the production of the dictionary, though it merited further consideration. The latter proposal continued to be researched with the hope that it might come about on the completion of SND. This led ultimately to the production of the Concise Scots Dictionary (CSD) and its publication in 1985. As the completion of SND drew closer there was a further debate as to whether the Joint Council should be wound up and DOST supported until its completion by Edinburgh alone. However, by the end of 1976 the Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews and Stirling had agreed to continue to fund the project. A Joint Council memorandum drafted in 1974 included the statement: 'The project was unquestionably a national enterprise and should be treated and be seen to be treated as such.' (DOST Archive) This remains true, now as then; indeed, it is one of the most remarkable aspects of a remarkable project that it had the participation of the Scottish Universities for almost fifty of its eighty years. However, such support did not put paid to financial problems, and in 1981 what was perhaps the most serious crisis so far blew up.

In 1980 the Universities, disappointed of completion in the 1970s, threatened withdrawal of support if a firm end date were not established. The Conference of the Scottish University Courts made it clear that it would be unlikely that the Universities would continue to support the dictionary after 1988, a year after the Carnegie Trust had said it would terminate its financial support. It was undeniable that the editing was taking too long. The calculations of Aitken and Stevenson proved that this date could not be met following the traditional methods so they devised a plan to finish DOST by means of what they called the 'OED-Dependent Method' where dictionary entries were based solely on the equivalent entry in OED:

"We accept OED's sense-analysis and definitions as given and simply assign our quotations as best we can to their places in the OED scheme, providing our own definitions only for those additional words and applications which we cannot fit into the OED scheme…And we propose to offer no etymological note and to undertake no research to ensure the precision of definitions or to provide encyclopedic notes and comments beyond those already in OED. But we would continue to provide exemplification at least as copious as now of all words, senses (according to OED's analysis), forms and collocations, with all their distributions." (Aitken 1981: 47)

The whole situation was explored at the Joint Council meeting in February 1981, when the following options were offered:

"1. Consideration of a plan to complete the editing of the dictionary by 1994.
2. ... to complete the editing of the dictionary by 1994 and allow for a further period of about a year for checking the press-prepared material and for proof-reading.
3. ... to use a much lowered standard of lexicographical analysis which would present, for T-Z, only those Older Scottish forms and meanings not already recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary. This would therefore be an Older Scots supplement to the OED; it would enable the dictionary to be 'completed' [sic] earlier than 1994." (Joint Council Minutes, DOST Archive)

A further meeting was arranged for April to give Aitken time to complete his researches into the viability of these options, so that a final decision might be reached. In the meantime a crisis of another sort arose with the publisher, the University of Chicago Press. This exacerbated matters, though it did not actually cause the crisis as had the problem of publication in 1950. The basic problem was still the same: the scale of the dictionary had doubled, at least, in comparison with what was envisaged in 1929. By the point reached in editing in 1981, the relationship Aitken had calculated in 1953 of 120 pages of DOST for every 376 pages of OED had become closer to 176 pages of OED. So between February and April 1981, Chicago University Press withdrew as publisher. This news was announced to the Joint Council in April. when an emergency meeting was called to address the future of the dictionary. The following options were laid before the Council:

"1. Completion of editing by 1994 with an increase of staff and replacement of editors when they retire.
2. Completion of editing by 2020-2030 by one editor and no replacement of staff when they retire.
3. Completion of editing by the Oxford English Dictionary-Dependent Method.
4. Abandonment of the whole project."

Aitken's assessment of option (3), which had now undergone a trial period, was that completion by this method would be two to two and a half times faster than by the other methods proposed, and that it would, therefore, be conceivable to complete the editing by 1987-8. He considered, however, that in larger entries there would be considerable loss of quality. The Joint Council invited a distinguished panel of lexicographers and scholars of Older Scots, Dr R. W. Burchfield (Oxford English Dictionary), Dr A. Fenton (National Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh), Professor D. Fox (University of Toronto), Mr P. G. W. Glare (Oxford University Press), Dr R. J. Lyall (University of Glasgow) and Dr J. L. Robinson (Middle English Dictionary), to report on the editorial policy of the dictionary and recommend a way forward. They reported in September that the OED-Dependent method of editing was a distinctly inferior option. The proposal had also been aired by Aitken at the Third International Conference on Scottish Language and Literature (Medieval and Renaissance). This Conference represented scholars with the most intimate knowledge of DOST, those best able to judge the losses that would be sustained were it to be completed according to the OED-Dependent method. On Saturday 11th July, their views were reported thus on the front page of The Scotsman:

"Sixty experts from all over the world … signed an open letter condemning the possibility of cuts in the project, which they said would amount to 'an appalling blot on Scottish scholarship'.
The letter stated:
For all our working lives we have looked on the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue as one of the great enterprises of literary and linguistic scholarship and have looked forward to its completion according to its present plan and format as a major contribution to the cultural life of Scotland and the world."

As Aitken had expected, the outcry which their complaint unleashed was sufficient to ensure a return to autonomous editing, though 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. By November 1981 Aberdeen University Press (AUP) had expressed an interest in publishing DOST and in February 1983 acquired the publication rights. AUP 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.



The 1980s started inauspiciously with the crisis of 1981 and promised worse with the imminent retirement of both the editors who had brought the project through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. When Aitken and Stevenson retired, the editorial staff consisted of Harry Watson and Marace Dareau. Volume V (O-Pn) was published in 1982 and VI (Po-Quh) in 1986. The whole of R and a considerable part of S had been edited but was not yet ready for publication. A completion date of 1988 was clearly out of the question.

In 1984 a charitable organisation, The Friends of the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, was set up to help with fund-raising. This initiative grew directly out of the concern felt by scholars that DOST might founder. By the end of the decade it had raised enough money to fund a part-time editor and a full-time editorial assistant/editor as well as providing a number of short term clerical posts. During this period there were also a number of valuable private benefactions, one of which funded a further editorial assistant post. In 1986 the Royal Society of Edinburgh agreed to support the dictionary for three years at the rate of £4000 per annum.(6)

Watson became Editor-in-chief in 1985 on the retirement of Stevenson. He had six years experience of lexicography, having, like Stevenson, come to it from teaching. The years between the crisis of 1981 and Watson's assumption of overall authority had seen no basic changes in editorial methodology or routine. The possibility of using word processing technology as part of the editorial process had been investigated, but it was quickly realised that on-screen editing was not feasible. It was recognised that the process of editing required the physical presence of citation slips, the pieces of paper on which individual quotations were recorded, so that all the quotations for a given word could be sorted and re-sorted with maximum ease. The most time-consuming aspect of lexicography is the thought and research that goes into the editing process, which only long years of experience can shorten. Watson applied the methodology passed on to him by Aitken and Stevenson, which meant that the conditions that had provoked the crisis of 1981 continued.

Dareau had returned to DOST in 1984 after a period as an editor on CSD. During the second half of the 1980s she became responsible for the revising stage of editing. From 1987 Lorna Pike became the third member of the editorial team. The anomalous situation with regard to responsibility for edited copy (Dareau) and overall responsibility for the dictionary (Watson) was recognised in 1988 when both were re-titled Senior Editor, with Watson retaining administrative responsibility and the title of Director.


Volume VII (Qui-Roz) was published in 1990. In 1993 the collapse of AUP added renewed publication difficulties to the organisation's other problems. They were resolved with a return to OUP, DOST's printer during the years with Chicago University Press, as publisher. Although the relationship enjoyed with AUP had been beneficial in every way, publication by the major publisher of reference works in the United Kingdom seemed to bode well for the final stage and there was a hope that the publication of the paper version might lead on to an electronic version similar to the electronic OED.

1994-2001: Accelerated Completion

In November 1993 Dareau, in a letter to Dr Victor Skretkowicz of the Department of English in the University of Dundee, who had succeeded Professor John MacQueen as Convener of the Joint Council, took stock of the situation with regard to editing. At that date the first editing of S was almost finished. She suggested that twelve years would be required for the remaining eighty-four drawers of unedited slips for T-Z. Early in 1994, Skretkowicz instituted a Review of the editorial methods and management of DOST in relation to the costs to completion of the project. Its context was outlined as follows:

"The Review was required for the purposes of fund-raising by Professor Alexander Fenton, Chairman of The Friends of DOST. It provides a long overdue examination of the editorial policy and of the procedures of editing and production. The first Part of DOST was published in 1931. The only interim Review was in 1981." (Asher et al. 1994)

The Review was carried out in March 1994. The Review panel consisted of: Professor R. E. Asher, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, University of Edinburgh, Mr T. Benbow, Director of Dictionaries, Oxford University Press, Dr C. Macafee, Lecturer in English, University of Aberdeen and Dr Skretkowicz, with Lesley S. Brown, Editor-in-Chief of the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, as Consultant. The aims of the Review were:

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

As regards the completion date, the panel found grounds to believe that funding might be easier to obtain if a date of 2000 was guaranteed. Dr Robert Burchfield, then editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, had served on the 1981 Review. On 18 February 1994 he wrote from New Zealand, 'DOST must be finished somehow, and I very much hope that the means to do this by the year 2000 can be found'. Alexander Fenton, Chairman of the Friends, has also urged completion during that year. (Ibid.)

Completion by 2000 thus became a cornerstone in the recommendations of the Review. However, it was unanimously agreed that the volumes of DOST to be published after the Review must maintain the quality of those published before. The solution proposed in 1981, where the DOST entries would depend for their content and structure on those of OED, was not acceptable. 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. An extended trial conducted with SPI (Technologies) Ltd demonstrated the practicality of this approach and a contract covering the keying and three phases of corrections for some 180,000 citation slips (in the event the number ran to 204,000) was agreed. Although SPI is based in Manila in the Philippines and all the work was done there, the company's European technical and marketing office was in Irvine in Ayrshire. This enabled a close liaison to develop between the two organisations, and the effectiveness of SPI's contribution with regard to quality in relation to efficiency of production cannot be overstated. An important consequence of keying the material at a relatively early stage in the process was the capacity gained to sort the quotations electronically. The extensive verification of the quotation material required prior to publication was greatly expedited by the capacity to check all the quotations from a single text at the same time. However, the challenge of speeding up the editing still remained. The editors' response to the Review document, made in September 1994, indicates how they saw this:

"We have carefully addressed the specific points made by the Review and our responses will demonstrate to all those interested in the future of DOST our commitment to drive the project in a new direction to achieve completion by the end of the year 2000." (Dareau et al. 1994)

It was clear to the editorial team that there was no time to waste. As soon as the editing of S was completed in August 1994 a calculation was made, dividing the time available by the work to be done. This gave a figure of eighteen days as the time available for editing each half drawer of the eighty-four drawers of raw slips for T-Z. This crude calculation gave the target to aim at and the rate of editing to be sustained over the six year period to 2000. (Previously, a similar amount of editing might have taken thirty or more days.) New editing guidelines were tested throughout August and September. The editors' response to the Review included a statement of what would be required if the 2000 deadline were to be met:

"To complete the fascicles of T-Z by 2000 we must edit two fascicles per year. This means one fascicle every eighteen months for each Editor. At present we are testing the hypothesis that this is possible by editing the first part of T in the fashion outlined above. By the second week of November when the period we have given ourselves for this test is up we should each have edited a sizeable sample of untouched material. If we can do this, and at present we believe we are on target, then we can claim with assurance that we can achieve the desired end date." (Ibid.)

There was certainly very little slack in the system, but some benefits arose from suggestions made in the Review, namely that a Project Manager be appointed to maintain an overview of the progress of the project as a whole; a production schedule devised; and a system of performance indicators, assessment and feedback adhered to. By the end of 1994, Professor William Gillies of the Department of Celtic, University of Edinburgh, had been appointed Project Manager. William Aitken, Secretary of the Joint Council and formerly Director of Management Information Services in the University of Edinburgh, took on responsibility for the budget. The production schedule drawn up by staff was monitored and refined in collaboration with Aitken, who drew up a monthly, and towards the end of the project, weekly, schedule. This operation demonstrated to the Joint Council and the Universities that the demanding targets set in 1994 were in fact being achieved. Aitken was also responsible for overseeing the increased computing aspects of the project, while he and Gillies looked after much of the day-to-day management of the project including fund-raising, thus freeing the editors to concentrate fully on the editorial task.

The quality and size of the team were also critical. It consisted of the three full-time editors and one full-time and two part-time editorial assistants (Eileen Finlayson, Heather Bree and Marjorie McNeill). The team combined size and experience to a greater degree than at any time in the past. The importance of experience had been stressed by Aitken in a letter to McIntosh in 1980:

"Some remarks [were made] … that one could buy three or more junior editors for the price of two seniors and that younger people worked faster than older. The implication of the former and the fact of the latter are untrue in the context of DOST (or any other similar dictionary, such as MED), at least if any regard at all is given to quality. More experienced persons in fact produce acceptable results much faster, because they already know much the junior has to find out ad hoc, because they are more skilled at analysis and at the devising of definitions and because they have confidence in their findings where a junior hesitates and vacillates." (DOST Archive)

In 1996 a follow-up Review took place. Its outcome is summarised in the report drawn up by the Review Panel, Professor Emeritus R. E. Asher (University of Edinburgh) and Professor A. A. MacDonald (University of Groningen):

"The high-level objectives of this review were to establish whether the changes recommended by the previous review in 1994 had been implemented and, in consequence, whether the target of completion in 2000 is likely to be achieved. The reviewers report that they were most favourably impressed with the progress made by the members of the DOST Team since 1994, and are pleased to state with confidence that:
1. the dictionary is now likely to be completed on time and,
2. the high quality of scholarship can be maintained throughout the remaining stages."

The Conclusion to this Review was as follows:

"The reviewers found that the actions taken in response to the recommendations of the 1994 Review had been very effective. They were impressed by the realistic and constructive attitude of the staff and management of the project, both in terms of morale and commitment. The target for completion of DOST remains 2000. The reviewers believe this is an achievable target and, further, that this should include publication of one volume per year with the final volume appearing in 2000. This would be a most commendable monument to Scottish scholarship." (DOST Archive)

As a result of this Review the Universities affirmed their willingness to fund the project to completion. The funding situation was also eased when in 1999 the Management Team secured a grant of £155,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) and one of £34,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The punishing rate of editing was maintained from 1994-2000 but the internal structure of cross-referencing of variant spellings and the interdependency of U, V and W meant that the publishing schedule of one volume per year could not be adhered to. Volume VIII (Ru-Sh) was published in 2000. Editing was completed in early December 2000 and all copy for volumes IX-XII dispatched to OUP by mid-July 2001. Volumes IX and X were published in 2001 and XI and XII in 2002.

Closing remarks

From 1953 the work of the dictionary was carried on at 27 George Square, Edinburgh. Whilst support from all the participating universities (Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews and Stirling) showed a generous and genuinely national effort, Edinburgh as the host university and employing institution also supplied support for the day-to-day needs of the project. The premises in George Square, charged at a rental well below commercial rates, ensured security of tenure and the many benefits of working in an academic environment with ready access to colleagues and services such as the Library and Computing Services. Most significant was the support from DOST's nearest neighbour, the School of Scottish Studies, whose staff proved valued colleagues. From 1988 to 1992 the Director of the School, Professor John MacQueen, was Convener of the Joint Council, and his successor, Professor Alexander Fenton, was a founder, Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of the Friends of DOST. The Director during DOST's final years, Dr Margaret A. Mackay, continued the tradition, always giving generous support, not only to the work of the Dictionary, but also to its staff as colleagues over the years of her tenure and especially in their more recent initiatives to find a future role for Scottish lexicography.

As completion approached, both the DOST Team and the Joint Council gave thought to what would come next. A Colloquium of representatives of DOST's user groups was asked to contribute to a discussion of where Scottish lexicography should direct its efforts at the beginning of the twenty-first century. These meetings, which received a warm response from a number of groups involved in the study of language and linguistics as well as related subjects in Scotland, led to a proposal for an Institute for the Languages of Scotland. This was conceived as an enabling agency which would foster work on many levels and within all the languages that are or have been contributors to Scotland's culture. It received wide support and remains an aspiration, so that the co-operation that is clearly desired by participants in so many fields can find suitable expression.

In a more local initiative a Liaison Group was set up to explore the possibility of integrating the data contained in DOST and SND. As a result of its deliberations, an application was made to the AHRB for funding to digitise DOST and SND. The successful outcome of this bid enabled the initiation of a joint project to make DOST and SND available in electronic form on the World Wide Web. This project (2001-2004), carried out at the University of Dundee, allows easy access for anyone with an internet connection to the dictionaries as they are, and will facilitate revision, leading, we may hope, to the eventual creation of an integrated Dictionary of the Scots Language from the earliest times to the present.

It is fitting to pay tribute at this point to the Scottish Arts Council (SAC), which supported both DOST and SND and warmly encouraged their coming together. SAC's recognition of the national importance of Scotland's languages was a major influence in a strategy which led in 2002 to the inception of Scottish Language Dictionaries Limited, the body now responsible for the dictionaries and the furtherance of Scottish lexicography, and active in a wide variety of language support measures.

Thus it is with the sense of coming full circle that Craigie's letter to Grant is recollected. Craigie had hoped 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 developments now envisaged surely offer the best prospect for fulfilling Craigie's vision, and, although he could not imagine the unity of DOST and SND in 1916 at the point of their conception, such an outcome would no doubt have given him enormous satisfaction.


1. Material from this section is included in Dareau (2002b) and in DOST XII, pp. ix-xix.
2. For a more detailed history of editorial policy see 'Editorial Philosophy', DOST XII, pp. xx-xxviii. For the editors, see the biographies in this volume.
3. George Watson joined the Clarendon Press in 1907 and worked as an assistant on OED till its completion, when he went to the University of Chicago as an Assistant Professor working with Craigie on DOST and the Dictionary of American English.
4. This phrase was used by Lesley Brown in her recommendations to the Review panel in 1994: 'that the DOST staff be fully apprised of the true grimness of the financial position'.
5. See The DOST Corpus, DOST XII, pp. clxiii-clxxiv.
6. See list of Funding Organisations, DOST XII, p. cclvii.

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The SCOTS Project and the University of Glasgow do not necessarily endorse, support or recommend the views expressed in this document.


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The History and Development of DOST. 2024. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 19 April 2024, from

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Information about Document 839

The History and Development of DOST


Text audience

Adults (18+)
General public
Informed lay people
Audience size 1000+

Text details

Method of composition Wordprocessed
Year of composition 2004
Word count 8854

Text medium


Text publication details

Publisher Edinburgh University Press
Publication year 2005
Place of publication Edinburgh
ISBN/ISSN 0748622810
Edition 1st
Part of larger text
Contained in Perspectives on the Older Scottish Tongue
Editor Christian J Kay and Margaret A Mackay
Page numbers 18-37

Text setting

Other Users of DOST

Text type

Prose: nonfiction


Author details

Author id 274
Forenames Marace
Surname Dareau
Gender Female
Decade of birth 1940
Educational attainment University
Age left school 18
Upbringing/religious beliefs Protestantism
Occupation Lexicographer
Region of birth E & Mid Dumfries
Birthplace CSD dialect area Dmf
Country of birth Scotland
Region of residence Gers
Country of residence France
Father's occupation Farmer
Father's region of birth E & Mid Dumfries
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area Dmf
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's occupation Housemaid / Housewife
Mother's place of birth Dundee
Mother's region of birth W Angus
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area Ags
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes Most of the time
French Yes Yes Yes Yes With French people in France where author lives
Scots Yes Yes Yes Yes With certain people, occ. at work