Oxford English Dictionary

Volumes of the “Oxford English Dictionary.” (Image by Ken via Wikimedia Commons)

Today is the 133rd 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, commemorating the 13th amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery. It’s the first day of Black History Month in the United States and it’s the start of LGBT History Month in the United Kingdom.

It’s unofficially Car Insurance Day, National Baked Alaska Day, and Change Your Password Day.

It’s the birthday of actor Clark Gable, who was born in 1901; writer Langston Hughes, who was born in 1902; and singer Rick James, who was born in 1948.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1961, the top song in the U.S. was “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles.

The No. 1 movie was “101 Dalmatians,” while the novel “Hawaii” by James Michener topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


Weekly question: What were Billy Preston’s two No. 1 hits in the United States?

Submit your answer at triviapeople.com/test and we’ll add the name of the person with the first correct answer to our winner’s wall … at triviapeople.com. We’ll have the correct answer on Friday’s episode.



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