4,229 new EEBO-TCP texts–and more!

This month, the Text Creation Partnership published 4,229 new EEBO-TCP texts. This brings the total number of searchable electronic texts corresponding to Early English Books Online (EEBO) titles to 44,419 (25,367 completed from 2000-2009 as part of Phase I and 19,052 from 2010-present as part of Phase II).

The newly released texts are now available to EEBO-TCP partner institutions via the EEBO-TCP platforms hosted by the University of Michigan and University of Oxford. The new batch of texts will also be added to ProQuest’s EEBO platform in the next EEBO content update, scheduled for February 2013.

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Possession is How Many Points of the Law?

This post from Colm MacCrossan, one of our editors at the University of Oxford, illustrates how the EEBO-TCP corpus can shed new light on old proverbs–and the challenge of sifting through and making sense of the results. The links throughout this post point to EEBO, the version of EEBO-TCP hosted by the University of Michigan Library, and the Oxford English Dictionary Online, and may require authentication/authorization.

One of the greatest pleasures of reviewing new texts for EEBO-TCP is the way in which it constantly confronts each of us with new perspectives on things we may feel we know so well as to be unquestionable. This can be profound (as in Becky’s recent blog post showing that ‘progressive’ attitudes to schooling shouldn’t be assumed to be uniquely modern), but can also begin as simply as stumbling across something oddly unfamiliar in an old use of an expression we still commonly repeat today.

Title page of  "Foure Treatises Tending to Disswade all Christians from … the Abuses of Swearing, Drunkennesse, Whoredome, and Briberie" (1609)Reviewing John Downame’s Foure Treatises Tending to Disswade all Christians from … the Abuses of Swearing, Drunkennesse, Whoredome, and Briberie (1609), my eye was caught by the following allusion: ‘…[A]s the common proverbe is, there are but twelve points in the law, and possession is as good as eleaven of them.’ Having grown up with the notion that ‘Possession is nine points of the law’ (that is, nine tenths), I was surprised, and began to wonder whether Downame had garbled his proverb, or whether it had simply shifted in time.

Certainly Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable (Millenium Edition, Revised by Adrian Room, p.932) supported the ‘nine points’ version, even going so far as to try to enumerate each of the nine.

The Oxford English Dictionary Online told a slightly different story. While favouring ‘nine points’ it acknowledged that ‘eleven’ was ‘formerly’ used as well, though one of its two entries dealing with this proverbial usage (within the definition of ‘possession, n.’) suggests that ‘eleven’ was used ‘hyperbolically’.

Nine of the eleven quotations the OED used to define this proverb in its ‘possession, n.’ context, dating between 1616 and 1998, followed the ‘nine points’ usage. The remaining two, from 1650 and 1712, suggested ‘eleven points’. By contrast, four of the nine quotations used to illustrate the same phrase within its definition of ‘point, n.1’ (ranging from 1639 to 1792) favour the ‘eleven point’ usage, with an equal number (ranging between 1616 and 1991) holding to ‘nine points’. (The ninth quotation states that ‘Possession is ninety-nine points of Lunacy law’; the OED editors’ note that this number is being used ‘hyperbolically’ is here harder to second guess.)

What begins to emerge from these sources, then, is a sense that ‘nine points’ has clearly come to dominate modern usage, but that ‘twelve points’ seems to have had some kind of currency in an earlier age. But how to pin down this hunch into a more concrete understanding of how this proverb was used in the early modern period?

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“Revolutionizing Early Modern Studies”? The Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership in 2012

Over the weekend, representatives from the University of Michigan’s TCP staff will be heading to Oxford to join our colleagues for “Revolutionizing Early Modern Studies”? The Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership in 2012, a conference marking a decade of Oxford’s partnership with EEBO-TCP.

On Monday and Tuesday, September 17-18, delegates will hear more than 25 papers, along with a number of posters, presenting various research applications for the EEBO-TCP corpus. Check out the program for a sneak peek at what is to come, and follow @TCPStream and @OxfordEEBOTCP on Twitter to join the conversation next week—whether you’ll be with us in Oxford or not!