The 1989 Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists set with 430 definitions. Although the next printed edition of the OED won’t be published until 2037, its chief editor has announced that run now has 645 definitions.
The OED is the principal historical dictionary of the English language published by Oxford University Press. It traces the historical development of the English language, providing a comprehensive resource to scholars and academic researchers, as well as describing usage in its many variations throughout the world. The second edition, comprising 21,728 pages in 20 volumes, was published in 1989. The chief executive of Oxford University Press has stated that it is unlikely that the third edition will ever be printed and will appear only in electronic form.
The making of the Oxford English Dictionary is an equally extraordinary story! Here are just a few tidbits about the 70-year effort to bring the work to completion in 1928.
The OED was crowd-sourced!
The editors enlisted the help of the public asking readers to send examples of sentences that could illuminate the meanings of different words. Volunteers mailed thousands of “quotation slips” every day. The first edition was published with the help of more than 2000 volunteers.
The co-founder, Frederick Furnivall was a colorful figure.
Furnivall had a controversy-riddled Shakespeare Society and was also in a six-year feud with the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne. They often traded public insults. Swinburne mocked Furnivall’s club by calling it “Fartiwell and Co.” and “The Sh*tspeare Society.” Furnivall returned the insult saying Swinburne had “the ear of a poetaster (inferior writer), hairy, thick and dull.”
The most prolific contributor to the OED was a madman.
Sri-Lankan-born, William C. Minor, was an American ex-pat and paranoid schizophrenic who was institutionalized for murder in England. He was confined to Britain’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane, Broadmore, a fact that OED editor, James Murray, was unaware of until he visited the lexicographical researcher in his jail cell.
If you are looking for an entertaining read, The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester, is “an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary—and literary history.”
If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in the making of the first dictionary of the English language, why Americans say zee instead of zed, or how the rhotic /r/ sound changed in Britain!
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