, Volume 96, Issue 1, pp 151–163 | Cite as

The treatment of assagai and zagaie by the OED, and of assegai by the Dictionary of South African English

  • David Scott-Macnab


This article consists of three parts. First, I argue that the OED is confused and mistaken in its treatment of the relationship between the cognate nouns assagai and zagaie in Early Modern English, and that it fails to distinguish a number of different senses in which both words are used. This I demonstrate by examining the etymologies of both words and analysing their relationship to one another. Next I consider the glosses supplied for assagai/assegai by both the OED and the Dictionary of South African English in order to show that both dictionaries conflate the word’s etymological sense with a later, transferred sense, from which the etymological sense should properly be distinguished. Finally, I argue that both the OED and the Dictionary of South African English overlook important evidence regarding the naturalisation of assagai in English. The strong influence of Dutch, I argue, needs to be accommodated in any etymological consideration of the English word, and in any analysis of its later development. The article closes with a suggested revised structure for the entry on assagai/assegai in both the OED and the Dictionary of South African English, followed by a brief consideration of issues concerning the transmission and semantic evolution of this word on which further research is needed.


Early Modern English Dutch assagai / assegai zagaie Etymology Dictionaries 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishUniversity of JohannesburgJohannesburgSouth Africa

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