Oxford English Dictionary

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Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary 2nd.jpg
Editor Michael Proffitt
Original title A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (NED)
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Subject Dictionary
Publisher Oxford University Press
Publication date
Pages 22,000[1]
ISBN 978-0-19-861186-8
OCLC 17648714
423 19
LC Class PE1625 .O87 1989
Preceded by 'OED1'
Publication dates
1888 A A New ED Vol. 1
1893 C NED Vol. 2
1897 D NED Vol. 3
1900 F NED Vol. 4
1901 H NED Vol. 5
1908 L NED Vol. 6
1909 O NED Vol. 7
1914 Q NED Vol. 8
1919 Si NED Vol. 9/1
1919 Su NED Vol. 9/2
1926 Ti NED Vol. 10/1
1928 V NED Vol. 10/2
1928 all NED 12 vols.
1933 & sup. Oxford ED 13 vols.
1972 A OED Sup. Vol. 1
1976 H OED Sup. Vol. 2
1982 O OED Sup. Vol. 3
1986 Sea OED Sup. Vol. 4
1989 all OED 2nd Ed. 20 vols.
1993 all OED Add. Ser. Vols. 1–2
1997 all OED Add. Ser. Vol. 3

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), published by the Oxford University Press, is the largest dictionary of English. Work began on the dictionary in 1857[2]:103–4,112 but it was not until 1884 that it started to be published in unbound fascicles as work continued on the project under the name A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by The Philological Society.[3]:169 In 1895, the title The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was first used[4] unofficially on the covers of the series and in 1928 the full dictionary was republished in ten bound volumes. In 1933, it fully replaced the name in all occurrences to The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in its reprinting as twelve volumes with a one volume supplement[4] and more supplements came over the years until in 1989 when the second edition was published in twenty volumes.[4] As of 24 March 2011, the editors had completed the third edition from M to Ryvita. With descriptions for approximately 750,000 words, the Oxford English Dictionary is the world's most comprehensive single-language print dictionary according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

The first electronic version of the dictionary was made available in 1988. The online version has been available since 2000, and as of August 2010 was receiving two million hits per month from paying subscribers. The third edition of the dictionary will probably only appear in electronic form. The chief executive of Oxford University Press, Nigel Portwood, feels it unlikely that it will ever be printed.[5]

Entries and relative size[edit]

According to the publishers, it would take a single person 120 years to "key in" text to convert it to machine readable form which consists of a total of 59 million words of the OED second edition, 60 years to proofread it, and 540 megabytes to store it electronically.[6] As of 30 November 2005, the Oxford English Dictionary contained approximately 301,100 main entries. Supplementing the entry headwords, there are 157,000 bold-type combinations and derivatives;[7] 169,000 italicized-bold phrases and combinations;[8] 616,500 word-forms in total, including 137,000 pronunciations; 249,300 etymologies; 577,000 cross-references; and 2,412,400 usage quotations. The dictionary's latest, complete print edition (second edition, 1989) was printed in 20 volumes, comprising 291,500 entries in 21,730 pages. The longest entry in the OED2 was for the verb set, which required 60,000 words to describe some 430 senses. As entries began to be revised for the OED3 in sequence starting from M, the longest entry became make in 2000, then put in 2007,[9] then run in 2011.[10]

Despite its impressive size, the OED is neither the world's largest nor the earliest exhaustive dictionary of a language. The Dutch dictionary Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal, which has similar aims to the OED, is the largest, taking twice as long to complete. Another earlier large dictionary is the Grimm brothers' dictionary of the German language, begun in 1838 and completed in 1961. The first edition of the Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca, which is the first great dictionary devoted to a modern European language (Italian), was published in 1612; the first edition of Dictionnaire de l'Académie française dates from 1694. The first edition of the official dictionary of Spanish, the Diccionario de la lengua española (produced, edited, and published by the Real Academia Española) was published in 1780. The Kangxi dictionary of Chinese was published in 1716.[11]

The OED's official policy is to attempt to record a word's most-known usages and variants in all varieties of English past and present, worldwide. Per the 1933 "Preface":

The aim of this Dictionary is to present in alphabetical series the words that have formed the English vocabulary from the time of the earliest records [ca. AD740] down to the present day, with all the relevant facts concerning their form, sense-history, pronunciation, and etymology. It embraces not only the standard language of literature and conversation, whether current at the moment, or obsolete, or archaic, but also the main technical vocabulary, and a large measure of dialectal usage and slang.

It continues:

Hence we exclude all words that had become obsolete by 1150 [the end of the Old English era]... Dialectal words and forms which occur since 1500 are not admitted, except when they continue the history of the word or sense once in general use, illustrate the history of a word, or have themselves a certain literary currency.

The OED is the focus of much scholarly work about English words. Its headword variant spellings order list influences written English in English-speaking countries.[citation needed]



At first, the dictionary was unconnected to Oxford University but was the idea of a small group of intellectuals in London;[2]:103–4,112 it originally was a Philological Society project conceived in London by Richard Chenevix Trench, Herbert Coleridge, and Frederick Furnivall, who were dissatisfied with the current English dictionaries. In June 1857, they formed an "Unregistered Words Committee" to search for unlisted and undefined words lacking in current dictionaries. In November, Trench's report was not a list of unregistered words; instead, it was the study On Some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries, which identified seven distinct shortcomings in contemporary dictionaries:

  • Incomplete coverage of obsolete words
  • Inconsistent coverage of families of related words
  • Incorrect dates for earliest use of words
  • History of obsolete senses of words often omitted
  • Inadequate distinction among synonyms
  • Insufficient use of good illustrative quotations
  • Space wasted on inappropriate or redundant content.

The Philological Society, however, ultimately realized that the number of unlisted words would be far more than the number of words in the English dictionaries of the 19th century. The Society eventually shifted their idea from only words that were not already in English dictionaries to a more comprehensive project. Trench suggested that a new, truly comprehensive dictionary was needed. On 7 January 1858, the Society formally adopted the idea of a comprehensive new dictionary.[2]:107–8 Volunteer readers would be assigned particular books, copying passages illustrating word usage onto quotation slips. In 1858, the Society agreed to the project in principle, with the title A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (NED).

Early editors[edit]

Richard Chenevix Trench played the key role in the project's first months, but his Church of England appointment as Dean of Westminster meant that he could not give the dictionary project the time it required; he withdrew, and Herbert Coleridge became the first editor.

Frederick Furnivall, 1825–1910

On 12 May 1860, Coleridge's dictionary plan was published, and research started. His house was the first editorial office. He arrayed 100,000 quotation slips in a 54-pigeon-hole grid. In April 1861, the group published the first sample pages; later that month, the thirty-year-old Coleridge died of tuberculosis.

Furnivall then became editor; he was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, yet temperamentally ill-suited for the work.[2]:110 Many volunteer readers eventually lost interest in the project as Furnivall failed to keep them motivated. Furthermore, many of the slips had been misplaced.

Furnivall believed that since many printed texts from earlier centuries were not readily available, it would be impossible for volunteers to efficiently locate the quotations that the dictionary needed. As a result, Furnivall founded the Early English Text Society in 1864 and the Chaucer Society in 1868 to publish old manuscripts. Furnivall's preparatory efforts, which lasted 21 years, provided numerous texts for the use and enjoyment of the general public as well as crucial sources for lexicographers, but did not actually involve compiling a dictionary. Furnivall recruited over 800 volunteers to read these texts and record quotations. While enthusiastic, the volunteers were not well trained and often made inconsistent and arbitrary selections. Ultimately, Furnivall would hand over nearly two tons of quotation slips and other materials to his successor.[12]

In the 1870s, Furnivall unsuccessfully attempted to recruit both Henry Sweet and Henry Nicol to succeed him. He then approached James Murray, who accepted the post of editor. In the late 1870s, Furnivall and Murray met with several publishers about publishing the dictionary. In 1878, Oxford University Press agreed with Murray to proceed with the massive project; the agreement was formalized the following year.[2]:111–2 The dictionary project finally had a publisher 20 years after the idea was conceived. It would be another 50 years before the entire dictionary was complete.

Late in his editorship Murray learned that one prolific reader, W. C. Minor, was a criminal lunatic.[2]:xiii Minor, a Yale University trained surgeon and military officer in the U.S. Civil War, was confined to Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane after killing a man in London. Minor invented his own quotation-tracking system allowing him to submit slips on specific words in response to editors' requests. The story of Murray and Minor later served as the central focus of a popular 20th-century book about the creation of the OED.

Oxford editors[edit]

James Murray in the Scriptorium at Banbury Road

During the 1870s, the Philological Society was concerned with the process of publishing a dictionary with such an immense scope. Although they had pages printed by publishers, no publication agreement was reached; both the Cambridge University Press and the Oxford University Press were approached. Finally, in 1879, after two years' negotiating by Sweet, Furnivall, and Murray, the OUP agreed to publish the dictionary and to pay the editor, Murray, who was also the Philological Society president. The dictionary was to be published as interval fascicles, with the final form in four 6,400-page volumes. They hoped to finish the project in ten years.

Murray started the project, working in a corrugated iron outbuilding, the "Scriptorium", which was lined with wooden planks, book shelves, and 1,029 pigeon-holes for the quotation slips. He tracked and regathered Furnivall's collection of quotation slips, which were found to concentrate on rare, interesting words rather than common usages: for instance, there were ten times as many quotations for abusion as for abuse.[13] Through newspapers distributed to bookshops and libraries, he appealed for readers who would report "as many quotations as you can for ordinary words" and for words that were "rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar or used in a peculiar way".[13] Murray had American philologist and liberal-arts-college professor Francis March manage the collection in North America; 1,000 quotation slips arrived daily to the Scriptorium, and by 1882, there were 3,500,000.

The first dictionary fascicle was published on 1 February 1884—twenty-three years after Coleridge's sample pages. The full title was A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by The Philological Society; the 352-page volume, words from A to Ant, cost 12s.6d (equivalent to £265 for 2010)[14] or (US$3.25) at the time. The total sales were a disappointing 4,000 copies.[3]:169

The OUP saw it would take too long to complete the work with unrevised editorial arrangements. Accordingly, new assistants were hired and two new demands were made on Murray. The first was that he moved from Mill Hill to Oxford; he did, in 1885. Murray had his Scriptorium re-erected on his new property.

The 78 Banbury Road, Oxford, house, erstwhile residence of James Murray, Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary

Murray resisted the second demand: that if he could not meet schedule, he must hire a second, senior editor to work in parallel to him, outside his supervision, on words from elsewhere in the alphabet. Murray did not want to share the work, feeling he would accelerate his work pace with experience.[citation needed] That turned out not to be so, and Philip Gell of the OUP forced the promotion of Murray's assistant Henry Bradley (hired by Murray in 1884), who worked independently in the British Museum in London, beginning in 1888. In 1896, Bradley moved to Oxford University.

Gell continued harassing Murray and Bradley with his business concerns—containing costs and speeding production—to the point where the project's collapse seemed likely. Newspapers, particularly the Saturday Review, reported the harassment, and public opinion backed the editors.[3]:182–83 Gell was fired, and the University reversed his cost policies. If the editors felt that the dictionary would have to grow larger, it would; it was an important work, and worth the time and money to properly finish. Neither Murray nor Bradley lived to see it. Murray died in 1915, having been responsible for words starting with A–D, H–K, O–P and T, nearly half the finished dictionary; Bradley died in 1923, having completed E–G, L–M, S–Sh, St and W–We. By then two additional editors had been promoted from assistant work to independent work, continuing without much trouble. William Craigie, starting in 1901, was responsible for N, Q–R, Si–Sq, U–V and Wo–Wy. Whereas previously the OUP had thought London too far from Oxford, after 1925 Craigie worked on the dictionary in Chicago, where he was a professor. The fourth editor was Charles Talbut Onions, who, starting in 1914, compiled the remaining ranges, Su–Sz, Wh–Wo and X–Z.[15] In 1919-1920 J. R. R. Tolkien was employed by the OED, researching etymologies of the Waggle to Warlock range;[16] later he parodied the principal editors as "The Four Wise Clerks of Oxenford" in the story Farmer Giles of Ham.


By early 1894 a total of 11 fascicles had been published, or about one per year: four for A–B, five for C, and two for E. Of these, eight were 352 pages long, while the last one in each group was shorter to end at the letter break (which would eventually become a volume break). At this point it was decided to publish the work in smaller and more frequent instalments: once every three months, beginning in 1895, there would now be a fascicle of 64 pages, priced at 2s.6d. (or US$1). If enough material was ready, 128 or even 192 pages would be published together. This pace was maintained until World War I forced reductions in staff. Each time enough consecutive pages were available, the same material was also published in the original larger fascicles.[citation needed]

Also in 1895, the title Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was first used. It then appeared only on the outer covers of the fascicles; the original title was still the official one and was used everywhere else. The 125th and last fascicle, covering words from Wise to the end of W, was published on 19 April 1928, and the full dictionary in bound volumes followed immediately.[citation needed]

The early modern English prose of Sir Thomas Browne is probably the most frequently quoted source of neologisms in the completed dictionary. William Shakespeare is the most-quoted writer, with Hamlet his most-quoted work. George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) is the most-quoted woman writer. Collectively, the Bible is the most-quoted work (but in many different translations); the most-quoted single work is Cursor Mundi.

Oxford English Dictionary and first supplement[edit]

Between 1928 and 1933 enough additional material had been compiled to make a one volume supplement so the dictionary was reissued as the set of 12 volumes and a one-volume supplement in 1933.

Second supplement and second edition[edit]

In 1933 Oxford had finally put the dictionary to rest; all work ended, and the quotation slips went into storage. However, the English language continued to change, and by the time 20 years had passed, the dictionary was outdated.

There were three possible ways to update it. The cheapest would have been to leave the existing work alone and simply compile a new supplement of perhaps one or two volumes; but then anyone looking for a word or sense and unsure of its age would have to look in three different places. The most convenient choice for the user would have been for the entire dictionary to be re-edited and retypeset, with each change included in its proper alphabetical place; but this would have been the most expensive option, with perhaps 15 volumes required to be produced. The OUP chose a middle approach: combining the new material with the existing supplement to form a larger replacement supplement.

Robert Burchfield was hired in 1957 to edit the second supplement; Onions, who turned 84 that year, was still able to make some contributions as well. Burchfield emphasized the inclusion of modern-day language, and through the supplement the dictionary was expanded to include a wealth of new words from the burgeoning fields of science and technology, as well as popular culture and colloquial speech. Burchfield said that he broadened the scope to include developments of the language in English-speaking regions beyond the United Kingdom, including North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and the Caribbean. In 2012, it emerged that Burchfield's second supplement had removed a large number of words which were present in the earlier 1933 supplement supervised by Onions, which his second supplement incorporated. The proportion was estimated from a sample calculation to amount to 17% of the foreign loan words and words from regional forms of English. Many of these had only a single recorded usage, but it ran against what was thought to be the established OED editorial practice and a perception that he had opened up the dictionary to 'World English'.[17][18][19] The work on the supplement was expected to take seven to ten years.[citation needed] It actually took 29 years, by which time the new supplement (OEDS) had grown to four volumes, starting with A, H, O and Sea. They were published in 1972, 1976, 1982, and 1986 respectively, bringing the complete dictionary to 16 volumes, or 17 counting the first supplement.

By this time it was clear that the full text of the dictionary would now need to be computerized. Achieving this would require retyping it once, but thereafter it would always be accessible for computer searching – as well as for whatever new editions of the dictionary might be desired, starting with an integration of the supplementary volumes and the main text. Preparation for this process began in 1983, and editorial work started the following year under the administrative direction of Timothy J. Benbow, with John A. Simpson and Edmund S. C. Weiner as co-editors.

Editing an entry of the NOED using LEXX

And so the New Oxford English Dictionary (NOED) project began. More than 120 keyboarders of the International Computaprint Corporation in Tampa, Florida, and Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, USA, started keying in over 350,000,000 characters, their work checked by 55 proof-readers in England. Retyping the text alone was not sufficient; all the information represented by the complex typography of the original dictionary had to be retained, which was done by marking up the content in SGML. A specialized search engine and display software were also needed to access it. Under a 1985 agreement, some of this software work was done at the University of Waterloo, Canada, at the Centre for the New Oxford English Dictionary, led by Frank Tompa and Gaston Gonnet; this search technology went on to become the basis for the Open Text Corporation. Computer hardware, database and other software, development managers, and programmers for the project were donated by the British subsidiary of IBM; the colour syntax-directed editor for the project, LEXX, was written by Mike Cowlishaw of IBM.[20] The University of Waterloo, in Canada, volunteered to design the database. A. Walton Litz, an English professor at Princeton University who served on the Oxford University Press advisory council, was quoted in Time as saying "I've never been associated with a project, I've never even heard of a project, that was so incredibly complicated and that met every deadline."[21]

By 1989 the NOED project had achieved its primary goals, and the editors, working online, had successfully combined the original text, Burchfield's supplement, and a small amount of newer material, into a single unified dictionary. The word "new" was again dropped from the name, and the second edition of the OED, or the OED2, was published. The first edition retronymically became the OED1.

The OED2 was printed in 20 volumes. For the first time, there was no attempt to start them on letter boundaries, and they were made roughly equal in size. The 20 volumes started with A, B.B.C., Cham, Creel, Dvandva, Follow, Hat, Interval, Look, Moul, Ow, Poise, Quemadero, Rob, Ser, Soot, Su, Thru, Unemancipated, and Wave.

Although the content of the OED2 is mostly just a reorganization of the earlier corpus, the retypesetting provided an opportunity for two long-needed format changes. The headword of each entry was no longer capitalized, allowing the user to readily see those words that actually require a capital letter. Also, whereas Murray had devised his own notation for pronunciation, there being no standard available at the time, the OED2 adopted the modern International Phonetic Alphabet. Unlike the earlier edition, all foreign alphabets except Greek were transliterated.

The British quiz show Countdown has awarded the leather-bound complete version to the champions of each series since its inception in 1982.

When the print version of the second edition was published in 1989, the response was enthusiastic. The author Anthony Burgess declared it "the greatest publishing event of the century", as quoted by the Los Angeles Times.[22] Time dubbed the book "a scholarly Everest",[21] and Richard Boston, writing for The Guardian, called it "one of the wonders of the world".[23]

New material was published in the Oxford English Dictionary Additions Series, which consisted of two small volumes in 1993, and a third in 1997, bringing the dictionary to a total of 23 volumes. Each of the supplements added about 3,000 new definitions. However, no more Additions volumes are planned, and it is not expected that any part of the Third Edition, or OED3, will be printed in fascicles.

Compact editions[edit]

In 1971, the 13-volume OED1 (1933) was reprinted as a two-volume, Compact Edition, by photographically reducing each page to one-half its linear dimensions; each compact edition page held four OED1 pages in a four-up ("4-up") format. The two volume letters were A and P; the Supplement was at the second volume's end.

The Compact Edition included, in a small slip-case drawer, a magnifying glass to help in reading reduced type. Many copies were inexpensively distributed through book clubs. In 1987, the second Supplement was published as a third volume to the Compact Edition. In 1991, for the OED2, the compact edition format was re-sized to one-third of original linear dimensions, a nine-up ("9-up") format requiring greater magnification, but allowing publication of a single-volume dictionary. It was accompanied by a magnifying glass as before and A User's Guide to the "Oxford English Dictionary", by Donna Lee Berg. After these volumes were published, though, book club offers commonly continued to sell the two-volume 1971 Compact Edition.

The Oxford Compact English Dictionary, edited by Della Thompson and published in 1996, is a single-volume edition.

Electronic versions[edit]

A screenshot of the first version of the OED second edition CD-ROM software.

Once the text of the dictionary was digitized and online, it was also available to be published on CD-ROM. The text of the first edition was made available in 1988. Afterward, three versions of the second edition were issued. Version 1 (1992) was identical in content to the printed second edition, and the CD itself was not copy-protected. Version 2 (1999) had some additions to the corpus, and updated software with improved searching features, but it had clumsy copy-protection that made it difficult to use and would even cause the program to deny use to OUP staff in the midst of demonstrating the product.[citation needed]

Version 3.0 was released in 2002 with additional words and software improvements, though its copy-protection remained as unforgiving as that of the earlier version. Version 3.1.1 (2007) includes a return to the less restrictive nature of version 1, with support for hard disk installation, so that the user does not have to insert the CD to use the dictionary. It has been reported that this version will work on operating systems other than Microsoft Windows, using emulation programs.[24][25] Version 4.0 of the CD, available since June 2009, works with Windows 7 and Mac OS X (10.4 or later).[26][27] This version will use the CD drive for installation, running only from the hard drive.

On 14 March 2000, the Oxford English Dictionary Online (OED Online) became available to subscribers.[28] The online database contains the entire OED2 and is updated quarterly with revisions that will be included in the OED3 (see below). The online edition is the most up-to-date version of the dictionary available. Whilst the OED web site is not optimised for mobile devices, they have stated that there are plans to provide an API which would enable developers to develop different interfaces for querying the OED.[29]

OED2 4th Edition CD-ROM

As the price for an individual to use this edition, even after a reduction in 2004, is £195 or US$295 every year, most subscribers are large organizations such as universities. Some of them do not use the Oxford English Dictionary Online portal and have legally downloaded the entire database into their organization's computers.[citation needed] Some public libraries and companies have subscribed as well, including public libraries in England, Wales, and New Zealand;[30][31][32] any person belonging to a library subscribing to the service is able to use the service from their own home without charge.

Another method of payment was introduced in 2004, offering residents of North or South America the opportunity to pay US$29.95 a month to access the online site.[citation needed]

Third Edition[edit]

The Oxford English Dictionary Third Edition, or OED3, is intended as a nearly complete overhaul of the work. Each word is being examined and revised to improve the accuracy of the definitions, derivations, pronunciations, and historical quotations—a task requiring the efforts of a staff consisting of more than 300 scholars, researchers, readers, and consultants, and projected to cost about £35 million (US$55 million).[citation needed] The result is expected to double the overall length of the text. The style of the dictionary will also change slightly. The original text was more literary, in that most of the quotations were taken from novels, plays, and other literary sources. The new edition, however, will reference all manner of printed resources, such as cookbooks, wills, technical manuals, specialist journals, and rock lyrics. The pace of inclusion of new words has been increased to the rate of about 4,000 a year. The estimated date of completion is 2037.[33][34]

New content can be viewed through the OED Online or on the periodically updated CD-ROM edition.

In 1993 John Simpson became the chief editor. Since the early work by each editor tends to be less polished and require more revision than their later work, it was decided to begin work on the current revision at a letter other than A (where work on the first edition was begun) in order to balance out this effect. Accordingly, the main work of the OED3 has been proceeding in sequence from the letter M. When the OED Online was launched in March 2000, it included the first batch of revised entries (officially described as draft entries), stretching from M to mahurat, and successive sections of text have since been released on a quarterly basis; by 24 March 2011, the revised section had reached Ryvita, and by December 2012, revisions reached "statuvolize, v.". Simpson retired in 2013 and was replaced by Michael Proffitt, who is the eighth chief editor.[35]

As new work is done on words in other parts of the alphabet, this is also included in each quarterly release. In March 2008, the editors announced that they would alternate each quarter between moving forward in the alphabet as before and updating "key English words from across the alphabet, along with the other words which make up the alphabetical cluster surrounding them".

The production of the new edition takes full advantage of computers, particularly since the June 2005 inauguration of the whimsically named "Perfect All-Singing All-Dancing Editorial and Notation Application", or "Pasadena". With this XML-based system, the attention of lexicographers can be directed more to matters of content than to presentation issues such as the numbering of definitions. The new system has also simplified the use of the quotations database, and enabled staff in New York to work directly on the dictionary in the same way as their Oxford-based counterparts.[36]

Other important computer uses include internet searches for evidence of current usage, and e-mail submissions of quotations by readers and the general public.

Wordhunt was a 2005 appeal to the general public for help in providing citations for 50 selected recent words, and produced antedatings for many. The results were reported in a BBC TV series, Balderdash and Piffle. The OED's small army of devoted readers continue to contribute quotations; the department currently receives about 200,000 a year.


The OED lists British headword spellings (e.g. labour, centre) with variants following (labor, center, etc.). For the suffix more commonly spelt -ise in British English, OUP policy dictates a preference for the spelling -ize, e.g. realize vs realise and globalization vs globalisation. The rationale is etymological, in that the English suffix mainly derives from the Greek suffix -ιζειν, (-izein), or the Latin -izāre. However -ze is also sometimes treated as an Americanism insofar as the -ze suffix has crept into words where it did not originally belong, as with analyse (British English), which is spelt analyze in American English.[37] See also -ise/-ize at American and British English spelling differences.

The sentence "The group analysed labour statistics published by the organization" is an example of OUP practice. This spelling (indicated with the registered IANA language tag en-GB-oed) is used by the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Organization for Standardization, and many British academic publications, such as Nature, the Biochemical Journal, and The Times Literary Supplement.


Despite its claim of authority[4] on the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary has been criticised from various angles. It has become a target precisely because of its massiveness, its claims to authority, and above all its influence.[citation needed] In his review of the 1982 supplement, University of Oxford linguist Roy Harris writes that criticising the OED is extremely difficult because "one is dealing not just with a dictionary but with a national institution", one that "has become, like the English monarchy, virtually immune from criticism in principle".[38]:935 He further notes that, while neologisms from respected "literary" authors such as Samuel Beckett and Virginia Woolf are included, usage of words in newspapers or other, less "respectable", sources hold less sway, although they may be commonly used.[38]:935 He writes that the OED’s "[b]lack-and-white lexicography is also black-and-white in that it takes upon itself to pronounce authoritatively on the rights and wrongs of usage",[38]:935 faulting the Dictionary’s prescriptive, rather than descriptive, usage. To Harris, this prescriptive classification of certain usages as "erroneous" and the complete omission of various forms and usages cumulatively represent the "social bias[es]" of the (presumably well-educated and wealthy) compilers.[38]:936

Harris also faults the editors' "donnish conservatism" and their adherence to prudish Victorian morals, citing as an example the non-inclusion of "various centuries-old 'four-letter words'" until 1972.[38]:935 However, no English dictionary included such words, for fear of possible prosecution under British obscenity laws, until after the conclusion of the Lady Chatterley's Lover obscenity trial in 1960. The first dictionary to include them was the Penguin English Dictionary of 1965.[5]

Founding editor James Murray was also reluctant to include scientific terms, despite their documentation, unless he felt they were widely enough used. In 1902 he declined to add the word "radium" to the dictionary.[39]

In contrast, Tim Bray, co-creator of Extensible Markup Language (XML), credits the OED as the developing inspiration of that markup language. Similarly, the author Anu Garg, founder of Wordsmith.org, has called the Oxford English Dictionary a "lex icon".[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "OED2", Amazon.com 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Winchester, Simon (1999). The Professor and the Madman. New York: HarperPerennial. ISBN 978-0060839789. 
  3. ^ a b c Winchester, Simon (2003). The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860702-4. 
  4. ^ a b c d "History of the OED" (online). OED.com, Oxford University Press. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Alastair Jamieson. "Oxford English Dictionary 'will not be printed again'". Retrieved 11 August 2012. 
  6. ^ "Dictionary Facts". OED. Retrieved 6 January 2014. 
  7. ^ A bold type combination has a significantly different meaning from the sum of its parts, for instance sauna-like is unlike an actual sauna.
  8. ^ italicised combinations are obvious from their parts (for example television aerial) unlike bold combinations
  9. ^ John Simpson, Chief Editor (13 December 2007). "December 2007 revisions – Quarterly updates". Oxford English Dictionary. OED. Retrieved 3 August 2010. 
  10. ^ Simon Winchester (28 May 2011). "A Verb for Our Frantic Time". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  11. ^ "Kangxi Dictionary". cultural-china.com. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  12. ^ "Reading Programme", Oxford English Dictionary - Reading Programme 
  13. ^ a b Murray, KM Elizabeth (2001). Caught in the Web of Words: James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary. Yale University Press. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-300-08919-6. 
  14. ^ Comparing relative average earnings of 12s 6d in 1884 with 2010. Measuring Worth
  15. ^ Mugglestone, Lynda (2000). Lexicography and the OED : Pioneers in the Untrodden Forest. Oxford University Press. p. 245. 
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  • Creaser, Wanda (7 April 2008 1996), "Review of Willinsky, John, Empire of Words: The Reign of the Oxford English Dictionary", Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 50 (1), pp. 108–9, JSTOR 1348362  .
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  • Gleick, James (5 November 2006). "Cyber-Neologoliferation". The New York Times Magazine. 

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