Oxford English Dictionary: All the Words!

By Dan (mrpolyonymous on Flickr) - https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrpolyonymous/6953043608, CC BY 2.0, $3
Seven volumes of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition (Photo by Dan via Wikimedia Commons)

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Today is the 132nd anniversary of the publication of the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Here are some things you may not have known about the dictionary.

It’s a descriptive dictionary, meaning it describes word usage and variations. Descriptivism is the opposite of prescriptivism, which aims to establish a standard of usage. The dictionary also shows the historical development of English though the ages.

In 1844, three members of the Philological Society were unsatisfied with current dictionaries and wanted to create one of their own that addressed what they perceived as shortcomings of the existing works. The idea of creating a new dictionary remained just that until June 1857 when an “Unregistered Words Committee” was formed to find words that had been left out of other dictionaries. The group also wanted to focus on obsolete words, related words and determining earliest use, among other things. Shortly after forming the committee, they decided a comprehensive dictionary was needed and would include words in common use. The title of the work would be “A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles.”

Originally, the group planed for a four-volume, 6,400-page dictionary. It ended up being 10 volumes and 15,490 pages.

In 1878, Oxford University Press agreed to publish the dictionary. The first section of the dictionary was published on February 1, 1884, covering words from A to Ant in 352 pages. After it was determined that the project was taking too long, a second senior editor was hired to oversee other parts of the alphabet. Among those hired as researchers was J.R.R. Tolkien, who handled etymologies from waggle to warlock. After 10 years, 11 volumes had been published through the letter E. The final fascicle, the 125th, was published on April 19, 1928. In 1933, the first supplement was published. Four more supplements followed in 1972, 1976, 1982 and 1986 before a second edition was published in 1989. The second edition is 20 volumes and 21,730 pages. Two volumes of additions have followed since.

Work on a third edition is underway and is expected to be completed in 2037. According to the CEO of Oxford University Press, it’s unlikely that the third edition will be published in book form and will exist only in electronic form.

Our question: Who is the most quoted writer in the Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition?

Today is National Freedom Day in the United States, in observance of the signing of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which banned slavery. It’s also National Baked Alaska Day, Car Insurance Day and National Serpent Day. It’s the birthday of film director John Ford, actor Clark Gable, writer Langston Hughes and singer Harry Styles from One Direction. (Insert sound of screaming girls here).

27 years ago in 1989, the year the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published, the top song in the U.S. was “Two Hearts” by Phil Collins; the No. 1 movie was “Rain Man,” while “Sands of Time” by Sidney Sheldon topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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