asset - not in the OED

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elroy

Imperfect Mod
US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
An OED poser.

Does anyone have any idea why the word "asset" does not appear in the OED (online)?

"Assets" is there but not "asset." There are references to the singular form under "assets," but "asset" does not have its own entry.

I'm puzzled. Even if "assets" originated as an exclusively plural word (cf. "news"), I would think that "asset" has in the meantime earned itself indepedent status.

I mean, the OED itself uses it in some of its example sentences - under "assets."

It bothers me that it doesn't have its own entry. Does anyone know of a reason for this?
 
  • dwipper

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    Looking at its etymology, (OF asez, Latin ad satis), I'd assume that the plural was the only form for some time and that the singular formed from it at a later date. When you think about it, how often do you use the word asset in comparison with 'assets?'
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    When I use it figuratively, I use "asset" with much more frequency.

    Dwipper's contributions are an asset to the forum.

    The OED recognizes this meaning, but lists it under the plural - with an example with "asset," at that!

    As I said above, I'm willing to accept that it used to be only a plural form, but shouldn't the OED - the online version anyway - be up to date?
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Hola Elroy,
    My very ancient "Shorter OED", published about 75 years ago, gives the etymology right at the top of the entry, and includes this:

    "Orig. sing., but now treated as pl., with sing. asset."


    So it seems that they think the singular is assets, and asset is just a variant spelling of the singular form.

    Cambridge on-line has no such issues. It's an Oxford quirk.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    My shorter OED is little more recent that Cuchu's. It mentions asset singular under assets 3. (Law and Commerce).

    I would use asset more than assets, but I expect that anyone involved with finance would use assets more.

    (OED would require one or more examples to associate with the
    definition.)
     

    Mr.Blue

    Senior Member
    Australia / English
    My OED shows asset as a singular except in sence 2 ( a property and possessions , esp. regarded as having value in meeting debts, commitments, etc. ) , it's usually used in plural. :)
     

    moodywop

    Banned
    Italian - Italy
    The 1993 edition of SOED lists assets under asset: assets "Orig. only as collect. sing (now regarded as pl.)".

    For the two senses associated with property it specifies "In pl.", adding "sing. an item of property or an effect so available".

    There is no indication of number for sense 3. "fig. A thing or person of use or value"
     

    Aupick

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    I've decided that it's best not to think of the OED as a dictionary in the traditional sense. I think of it instead as a historical survey of English vocabulary, although one that can be used quite effectively as a dictionary if you have the right approach. When I first started using it as a teenager (yes, I've been a dictionary geek for quite a while) I found it completely overwhelming and unintelligible. It's not user-friendly and doesn't try to be, preferring to stay true to its mission as a survey. This means that historical or "original" meanings are usually listed before current ones, and literal meanings come before figurative ones, even if this means that a dozen archaic meanings come before anything currently used, and long before what you're looking for. I use the Concise OED for day to day use, since this is probably the most user-friendly dictionary I've found.

    The problem with asset is not only that it derives from assets, but that assets was originally a singular not a plural word. It derives from the French "assez" (which would have been pronounced "assets" in medieval French: z was used in manuscripts as an abbreviation for "ts"). To have assets, originally, meant to have enough estate (when you die) to be able to cover all your debts. Because it ends in an s it came to be thought of as a plural form, and after a while people coined asset as a singular.

    The OED could, of course, include asset as a headword, but that's not the kind of thing the OED does, because it would be a duplication. It would suggest a different word with a different etymology. The OED doesn't include any plurals, even irregular ones. Search for "mice" and all you get is "Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers", under the headword "M". It does mention "mice" in the entry for "mouse", although it's buried in a list of 45 variant spellings that have been used over the centuries (everything from "mys" to "myesse" to "myzs", including "mices" and "mouses" as regional forms). It could also replace "assets" with "asset" as a headword, but that goes against the historical integrity of its approach. What it should do, perhaps, is lead you to "assets" when you type "asset", or "mouse" when you type "mice", but the main search box is for headwords only, and has the same kind of "integrity" as the dictionary as a whole. If you want to find "asset" under "assets" you have to do a "simple search" (in the bottom left corner). I guess what we're supposed to do is just be astonished and happy to learn that "asset" isn't quite the word we thought it was. I am. :)
     

    TrentinaNE

    Senior Member
    USA
    English (American)
    panjandrum said:
    I would use asset more than assets, but I expect that anyone involved with finance would use assets more.
    The authoritative accounting literature in the U.S. defines the word asset, but because entities (both individuals and corporations) tend to have more than one asset, I would agree with panj that it's more common to see the plural form.

    Elizabeth
     

    TrentinaNE

    Senior Member
    USA
    English (American)
    Third-ing! ;) Thanks for the fascinating etymology, Aupick. (Fascinating to me anyway -- I work in finance and accounting.)

    Elizabeth
     
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