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Swift's spelling of the word was not what I had expected; but what do you think?

The correct spelling is "ockster"; Swift is correct and nwhyte's instincts were wrong..
The correct spelling is "oxter"; Swift's spelling is archaic and nwhyte's instincts were correct.
Both "ockster" and "oxter" are acceptable spellings.
Neither "ockster" nor "oxter" is an acceptable spelling, and I will give what I believe to be the correct spelling in comments.
I have never encountered the word before and thus have no view on how it should be spelt.

Edited to add: Ken MacLeod agrees with me rather than with Jonathan Swift.


( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 21st, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
"ockster - see OXTER"

I know this without looking it up mostly because I had to look it up when doing a crossword a few years ago, convinced that the right answer wouldn't fit in the boxes. :) (I've known the word all my life, just not that there were two spellings.)
Aug. 21st, 2009 02:50 pm (UTC)
My first instinct would also be to go for oxter. But I hate to be a prescriptivist so, while recognising that ockster might be archaic, I wouldn't necessarily say it's unacceptable, depending on the context. :)
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Aug. 21st, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
As one of the 53.8%, I'm assuming it's something to do with cows or farming, hence something totally out of my purview. I shall however look it up.
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Aug. 21st, 2009 03:36 pm (UTC)
As I found out.

It's certainly fallen out of usage in South Lancashire, even amongst the people who still speak proper Lanky.
Aug. 21st, 2009 03:08 pm (UTC)
It looks that way - at least, Merriam Webster says
Pronunciation: \ˈäk-stər\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English (Scots), alteration of Old English ōxta; akin to Old English eax axis, axle — more at axis
Date: 15th century

1 chiefly Scottish & Irish : armpit 1
2 chiefly Scottish & Irish : arm

I'm English, and I've never encountered it. I'm somewhat bemused that sierra_le_oli seemingly has encountered it: I'm wondering whether it's her Dutch or her Kiwi background that has led to this acquaintance, or whether she's just too erudite for us mortals. I suspect the last, come to think of it.
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Aug. 21st, 2009 07:28 pm (UTC)
I've come across it, amusingly used by my mother. Probably from her parents who were from Donegal rather than from environment, seeing as how she was brought up in Wexford.
Aug. 21st, 2009 03:59 pm (UTC)
Definitely not used in my part of the world! Google suggests it's definitely a British (Irish, Scottish) term only.
Aug. 21st, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
I'd got for "oxter", pronounced "oaxter" in Scotland.
Aug. 21st, 2009 03:07 pm (UTC)
oxter is correct - but Swift is allowed be moderately archaic, considering.
Aug. 21st, 2009 03:11 pm (UTC)
Nope, new to me, and my guess as to what it meant was completely wrong. Google doesn't think it's a word, either. Chambers thinks it's Scots.
Aug. 21st, 2009 04:14 pm (UTC)
Chambers is right - it's Scots (or, if you prefer, Doric)
Aug. 21st, 2009 10:36 pm (UTC)
I don't think I encountered it in fourteen years in Scotland though.

I'll ask my mum.
Aug. 21st, 2009 10:39 pm (UTC)
Nope, me neither; I lived in Scotland for four years.
Aug. 22nd, 2009 12:11 am (UTC)
It's not the kind of word you'll encounter, I think, unless you grew up in Scotland...
...it's an situation: how often do you talk about your armpits?;-)
Aug. 21st, 2009 03:50 pm (UTC)
I have to confess that I made a mistake and confused it with "oxer", but I still stand by the spelling.
Aug. 21st, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC)
In Dutch, it's oksel. Wonder if they're related somewhere back in the dim, dark when?
Aug. 21st, 2009 04:12 pm (UTC)
It is pretty unusual for me to encounter new words, but this is a new one for me. Or at least, not a word I've noticed in, say, the last five years.
Aug. 21st, 2009 04:13 pm (UTC)
It's oxter, no question
Aug. 21st, 2009 04:14 pm (UTC)
Dr Johnson's dictionary was published in 1755, 10 years after Swift's death. I think you would need to pull some rabbits out of hats if you are going to make a case that there was such a thing as standardised spelling much before then. (Consider all of the variant spellings of Shakespeare's name by Shaxper himself for example.)
Aug. 21st, 2009 04:15 pm (UTC)
[So in other words I have voted that both were acceptable spellings at that time.]
Aug. 21st, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
Personally, I believe that both versions are acceptable. Not so sure about the "accepted" spelling my O'level English teacher advocated, though, "uxter"...
Aug. 21st, 2009 08:55 pm (UTC)
An old source like Swift can never be wrong as he will be cited in the OED. Joyce used oxter though :-)

oxter, n.

Chiefly Eng. regional (north.), Sc., Irish English, and Manx English.

Forms: 15 oxtere (north.); Eng. regional 16 18- oxter, 18 oxtar, 18 oxterns (plural), 18- ockster, 18- ocksther, 18- uxter, 19- oaxter (Northumberland); Sc. pre-17 auxter, pre-17 hokster, pre-17 hoxstar, pre-17 ocster, pre-17 oixstar, pre-17 okister, pre-17 okstar, pre-17 oxstair, pre-17 oxstar, pre-17 oxstare, pre-17 oxtare, pre-17 uxter, pre-17 17 ockster, pre-17 17 okster, pre-17 17- oxter, pre-17 18 oxtar, pre-17 18- oxster, 17 oukster, 18 ouster, 18 ouxter, 19- oxther; Irish English 18- oxter, 18- oxther, 19- oxster, 19- oxtther, 19- uxter; also Manx English 18- oxther, 19- oxthar.

The armpit; (also more generally) the underside of the upper arm; the fold of the arm when bent against the body. Also: the armhole of a coat, jacket, etc.
c1420 in C. Innes Liber Calchou (1846) II. 449 The hart has his clengyng plas vnder the armys that is in the hole of the oxteris. c1540 J. BELLENDEN tr. H. Boece Hyst. & Cron. Scotl. (1821) II. 199 With hate eggis bound under hir oxtaris. 1568 (?a1513) W. DUNBAR Poems (1998) 39 His fa sum be the oxtar ledis. 1597 P. LOWE Art Chirurg. (1634) 81 There is a sort of it that appeareth under the oxter and jawes. a1605 R. BANNATYNE Memorials Trans. Scotl. (1836) 247 Johne Brand, minister,..having on his gowne and a byble under his oxstare. 1630 in S. A. Gillon Sel. Justiciary Cases (1953) I. 145 Haifing ane katt under his okister. 1674 J. RAY N. Country Words 35 An Oxter: an Armpit, Axilla. 1745 SWIFT Direct. to Servants 48 This will keep it at least as warm as under your Arm-pit, or Ockster, (as the Scots call it). 1777 D. GRAHAM Whole Proc. Jockey & Maggy IV. 28 Na, na, mither an' the wean wad suck our Maggy, I sud take it hame in my oxter. 1842 U.S. Democratic Rev. Jan. 76 See there be gusset of good mail, hooked firmly to the corslet-rim and upper edge of the brassards, to guard the oxter from arrow-shot or thrust of some sharp weapon when the right arm is raised. 1852 A. ROBB Poems & Songs 115 Grip me in your oxter. 1882 T. MAIR John o' Arnha's Latterday Exploits 67 His left hand i' the oxter o' His waistcoat was enthoombed. 1914 J. JOYCE Dubliners 206 Many a good man went to the penny-a-week school with a sod of turf under his oxter. 1964 Listener 19 Mar. 494/3 Alan Whicker..stood..on that bubbling pitch lake of Trinidad..and let us hear a calypso from a man who'd fallen into it up to his oxters. 1991 R. A. JAMIESON Day at Office 85 Togher came in to the kitchen..buttoning the cuffs of a shirt which was ripped at one oxter.

Aug. 21st, 2009 10:37 pm (UTC)
For the record, I just voted 'oxter is correct'...

...and this very day, stripped an instance of it out of the draft version of my current book, deciding it would be a linguistic obscurity too far for the majority of even my erudite and charming readership.

Looks like the right call there.

It's a word that's been with me from early childhood, tho' whether acquired from Lincolnshire dialect* where I then lived, or from my Irish grandmother, I honestly cannot say.

*where I have previously encountered words of almost certain Dutch origin, tho' naturally at this hour, I cannot recall a single instance thereof.
Aug. 22nd, 2009 09:43 am (UTC)
I have only seen it in a "Mrs Brady" strip in Viz, in which it was implied to be a much ruder part of the body.
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