The ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (''OED'') is the first and foundational historical dictionary of the
English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family, with its earliest forms spoken by the inhabitants of early medieval England. It is named after the Angles, one of the ancient Germanic people ...

English language
, published by
Oxford University Press Oxford University Press (OUP) is the university press of the University of Oxford. It is the largest university press in the world, and its printing history dates back to the 1480s. Having been officially granted the legal right to print books ...

Oxford University Press
(OUP). 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. Work began on the dictionary in 1857, but it was only in 1884 that it began to be published in unbound fascicles as work continued on the project, under the name of ''A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by The Philological Society''. In 1895, the title ''The Oxford English Dictionary'' was first used unofficially on the covers of the series, and in 1928 the full dictionary was republished in 10 bound volumes. In 1933, the title ''The Oxford English Dictionary'' fully replaced the former name in all occurrences in its reprinting as 12 volumes with a one-volume supplement. More supplements came over the years until 1989, when the second edition was published, comprising 21,728 pages in 20 volumes. Since 2000, compilation of a third edition of the dictionary has been underway, approximately half of which was complete by 2018. The first electronic version of the dictionary was made available in 1988. The online version has been available since 2000, and by April 2014 was receiving over two million visits per month. The third edition of the dictionary is expected to be available exclusively in electronic form; the Chief Executive of Oxford University Press has stated that it is unlikely that it will ever be printed.

Historical nature

As a historical dictionary, the ''Oxford English Dictionary'' features entries in which the earliest ascertainable recorded sense of a word, whether current or obsolete, is presented first, and each additional sense is presented in historical order according to the date of its earliest ascertainable recorded use. Following each definition are several brief illustrating quotations presented in chronological order from the earliest ascertainable use of the word in that sense to the last ascertainable use for an obsolete sense, to indicate both its life span and the time since its desuetude, or to a relatively recent use for current ones. The format of the ''OED''s entries has influenced numerous other historical
lexicography Lexicography is the study of lexicons, and is divided into two separate academic disciplines. It is the art of compiling dictionaries. * Practical lexicography is the art or craft of compiling, writing and editing dictionary, dictionaries. ...

projects. The forerunners to the ''OED'', such as the early volumes of the '' Deutsches Wörterbuch'', had initially provided few quotations from a limited number of sources, whereas the ''OED'' editors preferred larger groups of quite short quotations from a wide selection of authors and publications. This influenced later volumes of this and other lexicographical works.

Entries and relative size

According to the publishers, it would take a single person 120 years to "key in" the 59 million words of the ''OED'' second edition, 60 years to proofread them, and 540
megabyte The megabyte is a multiple of the unit byte for digital information. Its recommended unit symbol is MB. The unit prefix ''mega'' is a multiplier of (106) in the International System of Units (SI). Therefore, one megabyte is one million bytes o ...
s to store them electronically. 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; 169,000 italicized-bold phrases and combinations; 616,500 word-forms in total, including 137,000
pronunciation Pronunciation is the way in which a word or a language is spoken. This may refer to generally agreed-upon sequences of sounds used in speaking a given word or language in a specific dialect ("correct pronunciation") or simply the way a particular ...
s; 249,300
etymologies Etymology ()The New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998) – p. 633 "Etymology /ˌɛtɪˈmɒlədʒi/ the study of the class in words and the way their meanings have changed throughout time". is the study of the history of the Phonological chan ...
; 577,000 cross-references; and 2,412,400 usage
quotation A quotation is the repetition of a sentence, phrase, or passage from speech or text that someone has said or written. In oral speech, it is the representation of an utterance (i.e. of something that a speaker actually said) that is introduced by ...

s. 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 580 senses (430 for the bare verb, the rest in phrasal verbs and idioms). As entries began to be revised for the ''OED3'' in sequence starting from M, the record was progressively broken by the verbs ''make'' in 2000, then ''put'' in 2007, then ''run'' in 2011 with 645 senses. Despite its considerable size, the ''OED'' is neither the world's largest nor the earliest exhaustive dictionary of a language. 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 is the first great dictionary devoted to a modern European language (Italian) and was published in 1612; the first edition of dates from 1694. The official dictionary of Spanish is the (produced, edited, and published by the
Real Academia Española The Royal Spanish Academy ( es, Real Academia Española, generally abbreviated as RAE) is Spain's official royal institution with a mission to ensure the stability of the Spanish language. It is based in Madrid, Spain, and is affiliated with ...
), and its first edition was published in 1780. The ''
Kangxi Dictionary The ''Kangxi Dictionary'' ( (Compendium of standard characters from the Kangxi period), published in 1716, was the most authoritative dictionary of Chinese characters Chinese characters () are logograms developed for the writing of ...
'' of Chinese was published in 1716. The largest dictionary by number of pages is believed to be the Dutch .



The dictionary began as a Philological Society project of a small group of intellectuals in London (and unconnected to
Oxford University Oxford () is a city in England. It is the county town and only city of Oxfordshire. In 2020, its population was estimated at 151,584. It is north-west of London, south-east of Birmingham and north-east of Bristol. The city is home to the Un ...

Oxford University
): Richard Chenevix Trench, , and Frederick Furnivall, who were dissatisfied with the existing English dictionaries. The society expressed interest in compiling a new dictionary as early as 1844, but it was not until June 1857 that they began by forming an "Unregistered Words Committee" to search for words that were unlisted or poorly defined 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 society 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, and shifted their idea from covering only words that were not already in English dictionaries to a larger 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. Volunteer readers would be assigned particular books, copying passages illustrating word usage onto quotation slips. Later the same year, the society agreed to the project in principle, with the title ''A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles'' (''NED'').

Early editors

Richard Chenevix Trench (1807–1886) played the key role in the project's first months, but his appointment as Dean of Westminster meant that he could not give the dictionary project the time that it required. He withdrew and became the first editor. On 12 May 1860, Coleridge's dictionary plan was published and research was 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, Coleridge died of
tuberculosis Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease usually caused by ''Mycobacterium tuberculosis'' (MTB) bacteria. Tuberculosis generally affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body. Most infections show no symptoms, in ...

, aged 30. Thereupon Furnivall became editor; he was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, but temperamentally ill-suited for the work. Many volunteer readers eventually lost interest in the project, as Furnivall failed to keep them motivated. Furthermore, many of the slips were 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, he founded the Early English Text Society in 1864 and the Chaucer Society in 1868 to publish old manuscripts. Furnivall's preparatory efforts lasted 21 years and provided numerous texts for the use and enjoyment of the general public, as well as crucial sources for lexicographers, but they did not actually involve compiling a dictionary. Furnivall recruited more than 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 handed over nearly two tons of quotation slips and other materials to his successor. 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. 20 years after its conception, the dictionary project finally had a publisher. It would take another 50 years to complete. Late in his editorship, Murray learned that one especially prolific reader, W. C. Minor, was confined to a mental hospital for (in modern terminology)
schizophrenia Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by continuous or relapsing episodes of psychosis. Major symptoms include hallucinations (typically hearing voices), delusions, and disorganized thinking. Other symptoms include social w ...

. Minor was a Yale University-trained surgeon and a military officer in the
American Civil War The American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 26, 1865; also known by Names of the American Civil War, other names) was a civil war in the United States. It was fought between the Union (American Civil War), Union ("the North") and t ...
who had been confined to Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane after killing a man in London. He invented his own quotation-tracking system, allowing him to submit slips on specific words in response to editors' requests. The story of how Murray and Minor worked together to advance the ''OED'' was retold in the 1998 book '' The Surgeon of Crowthorne'' (US title: ''The Professor and the Madman''), which was the basis for a 2019 film, '' The Professor and the Madman'', starring and Sean Penn.

Oxford editors

During the 1870s, the Philological Society was concerned with the process of publishing a dictionary with such an immense scope. They had pages printed by publishers, but no publication agreement was reached; both the
Cambridge University Press Cambridge University Press is the university press of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by Henry VIII of England, King Henry VIII in 1534, it is the oldest university press in the world. It is also the King's Printer. Cambr ...
and the
Oxford University Press Oxford University Press (OUP) is the university press of the University of Oxford. It is the largest university press in the world, and its printing history dates back to the 1480s. Having been officially granted the legal right to print books ...

Oxford University Press
were approached. The OUP finally agreed in 1879 (after two years of negotiating by Sweet, Furnivall, and Murray) to publish the dictionary and to pay Murray, who was both the editor and the Philological Society president. The dictionary was to be published as interval fascicles, with the final form in four volumes, totalling 6,400 pages. They hoped to finish the project in ten years. Murray started the project, working in a corrugated iron outbuilding called the "
Scriptorium Scriptorium (), literally "a place for writing", is commonly used to refer to a room in medieval European monasteries devoted to the writing, copying and Illuminated manuscript, illuminating of manuscripts commonly handled by monastic scribes. H ...

" which was lined with wooden planks, bookshelves, 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''. He appealed, through newspapers distributed to bookshops and libraries, 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". Murray had American philologist and
liberal arts college A liberal arts college or liberal arts institution of higher education is a college with an emphasis on Undergraduate education, undergraduate study in Liberal arts education, liberal arts and Science education, sciences. Such colleges aim to imp ...
professor Francis March manage the collection in North America; 1,000 quotation slips arrived daily to the Scriptorium and, by 1880, there were 2,500,000. 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 12 s 6 d (). The total sales were only 4,000 copies. The OUP saw that 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 move from to
Oxford Oxford () is a city in England. It is the county town and only city of Oxfordshire. In 2020, its population was estimated at 151,584. It is north-west of London, south-east of Birmingham and north-east of Bristol. The city is home to the Un ...
, which he did in 1885. Murray had his Scriptorium re-erected on his new property. 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 that he would accelerate his work pace with experience. That turned out not to be so, and Philip Gell of the OUP forced the promotion of Murray's assistant
Henry Bradley Henry Bradley, Fellow of the British Academy, FBA (3 December 1845 – 23 May 1923) was a British philologist and lexicographer who succeeded James Murray (lexicographer), James Murray as senior editor of the ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (OED). ...
(hired by Murray in 1884), who worked independently in the
British Museum The British Museum is a public museum dedicated to human history, art and culture located in the Bloomsbury area of London. Its permanent collection of eight million works is among the list of largest art museums, largest and most comprehens ...

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 reported the harassment, particularly the '' Saturday Review'', and public opinion backed the editors. 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 started in 1901 and was responsible for ''N'', ''Q–R'', ''Si–Sq'', ''U–V'', and ''Wo–Wy.'' The OUP had previously thought London too far from Oxford but, after 1925, Craigie worked on the dictionary in Chicago, where he was a professor. The fourth editor was Charles Talbut Onions, who compiled the remaining ranges starting in 1914: ''Su–Sz'', ''Wh–Wo'', and ''X–Z''. In 1919–1920, J. R. R. Tolkien was employed by the ''OED'', researching etymologies of the ''Waggle'' to ''Warlock'' range; 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 eventually became 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 be a fascicle of 64 pages, priced at 2s 6d. 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. Also in 1895, the title ''Oxford English Dictionary'' 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.

Completion of first edition and first supplement

The 125th and last fascicle covered words from ''Wise'' to the end of ''W'' and was published on 19 April 1928, and the full dictionary in bound volumes followed immediately.
William Shakespeare William Shakespeare ( 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor. He is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's nation ...

William Shakespeare
is the most-quoted writer in the completed dictionary, with ''
Hamlet ''The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'', often shortened to ''Hamlet'' (), is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, wiktionary:τραγῳδία, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama based on human ...

'' his most-quoted work.
George Eliot Mary Ann Evans (22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880; alternatively Mary Anne or Marian), known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator, and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She ...

George Eliot
(Mary Ann Evans) is the most-quoted female writer. Collectively, the
Bible The Bible (from Koine Greek , , 'the books') is a collection of religious texts or scriptures that are held to be sacredness, sacred in Christianity, Judaism, Samaritanism, and many other religions. The Bible is an anthologya compilation of ...

is the most-quoted work (in many translations); the most-quoted single work is '' Cursor Mundi''. Additional material for a given letter range continued to be gathered after the corresponding fascicle was printed, with a view towards inclusion in a supplement or revised edition. A one-volume supplement of such material was published in 1933, with entries weighted towards the start of the alphabet where the fascicles were decades old. The supplement included at least one word (''bondmaid'') accidentally omitted when its slips were misplaced; many words and senses newly coined (famously '''', coined in 1886 and missing from the 1885 fascicle, which came to prominence when
Edward VII Edward VII (Albert Edward; 9 November 1841 – 6 May 1910) was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Emperor of India, from 22 January 1901 until Death and state funeral of Edward VII, his death in 1910. The second chil ...

Edward VII
's 1902 appendicitis postponed his coronation); and some previously excluded as too obscure (notoriously '''', omitted in 1903, months before its discoverers Pierre and won the
Nobel Prize in Physics ) , image = Nobel Prize.png , alt = A golden medallion with an embossed image of a bearded man facing left in profile. To the left of the man is the text "ALFR•" then "NOBEL", and on the right, the text (smaller) "NAT•" then " ...
.). Also in 1933 the original fascicles of the entire dictionary were re-issued, bound into 12 volumes, under the title "''The Oxford English Dictionary''". This edition of 13 volumes including the supplement was subsequently reprinted in 1961 and 1970.

Second supplement

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; Charles Talbut Onions turned 84 that year but was still able to make some contributions as well. The work on the supplement was expected to take about seven years. 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. 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. Burchfield also removed, for unknown reasons, many entries that had been added to the 1933 supplement. In 2012, an analysis by lexicographer Sarah Ogilvie revealed that many of these entries were in fact foreign loanwords, despite Burchfield's claim that he included more such words. The proportion was estimated from a sample calculation to amount to 17% of the foreign
loan word A loanword (also loan word or loan-word) is a word at least partly assimilated from one language (the donor language) into another language. This is in contrast to cognates, which are words in two or more languages that are similar because the ...
s and words from regional forms of English. Some of these had only a single recorded usage, but many had multiple recorded citations, and 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".

Revised American edition

This was published in 1968 at $300. There were changes in the arrangement of the volumes – for example volume 7 covered only N–Poy, the remaining "P" entries being transferred to volume 8.

Second edition

By the time the new supplement was completed, it was clear that the full text of the dictionary would 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 and Edmund S. C. Weiner as co-editors. In 2016, Simpson published his memoir chronicling his years at the OED: ''The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary – A Memoir'' (New York: Basic Books). Thus began the ''New Oxford English Dictionary (NOED)'' project. In the United States, more than 120 typists of the International Computaprint Corporation (now Reed Tech) 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 Typography is the art and technique of typesetting, arranging type to make written language legibility, legible, readability, readable and beauty, appealing when displayed. The arrangement of type involves selecting typefaces, Point (typogra ...

of the original dictionary had to be retained, which was done by marking up the content in . A specialized
search engine A search engine is a software system designed to carry out Web search query, web searches. They search the World Wide Web in a systematic way for particular information specified in a textual web search query. The Search engine results page, ...
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 ; 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 ; the colour syntax-directed editor for the project, LEXX, was written by Mike Cowlishaw of IBM. The University of Waterloo, in Canada, volunteered to design the database. A. Walton Litz, an English professor at
Princeton University Princeton University is a private university, private research university in Princeton, New Jersey. Founded in 1746 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Elizabeth as the College of New Jersey, Princeton is the List of Colonial Colleges, fourth-oldest ins ...

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." 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 ''Oxford English Dictionary 2'' was printed in 20 volumes. Up to a very late stage, all the volumes of the first edition were started on letter boundaries. For the second edition, 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''. The content of the ''OED2'' is mostly just a reorganization of the earlier corpus, but 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. Murray had devised his own notation for pronunciation, there being no standard available at the time, whereas the ''OED2'' adopted the modern
International Phonetic Alphabet The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written graphemes (called letter (alphabet), letters) that represent the phonemes of certain spoken languages. Not all writing syste ...
. Unlike the earlier edition, all foreign alphabets except Greek were . The British quiz show '' Countdown'' awarded the leather-bound complete version to the champions of each series between its inception in 1982 and Series 63 in 2010. The prize was axed after Series 83, completed in June 2021, due to being considered out of date. When the print version of the second edition was published in 1989, the response was enthusiastic. Author Anthony Burgess declared it "the greatest publishing event of the century", as quoted by the ''
Los Angeles Times The ''Los Angeles Times'' (abbreviated as ''LA Times'') is a daily newspaper A newspaper is a Periodical literature, periodical publication containing written News, information about current events and is often typed in black ink with a ...

Los Angeles Times
''. ''Time'' dubbed the book "a scholarly
Everest Mount Everest (; Tibetic languages, Tibetan: ''Chomolungma'' ; ) is List of highest mountains on Earth, Earth's highest mountain above sea level, located in the Mahalangur Himal sub-range of the Himalayas. The China–Nepal border ru ...

", and Richard Boston, writing for ''
The Guardian ''The Guardian'' is a British daily newspaper. It was founded in 1821 as ''The Manchester Guardian'', and changed its name in 1959. Along with its sister papers ''The Observer'' and ''The Guardian Weekly'', ''The Guardian'' is part of the Gu ...

The Guardian
'', called it "one of the
wonders of the world Various lists of the Wonders of the World have been compiled from antiquity to the present day, in order to catalogue the world's most spectacular natural features and human-built structures. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is the o ...

wonders of the world

Additions series

The supplements and their integration into the second edition were a great improvement to the ''OED'' as a whole, but it was recognized that most of the entries were still fundamentally unaltered from the first edition. Much of the information in the dictionary published in 1989 was already decades out of date, though the supplements had made good progress towards incorporating new vocabulary. Yet many definitions contained disproven scientific theories, outdated historical information, and moral values that were no longer widely accepted. Furthermore, the supplements had failed to recognize many words in the existing volumes as obsolete by the time of the second edition's publication, meaning that thousands of words were marked as current despite no recent evidence of their use. Accordingly, it was recognized that work on a third edition would have to begin to rectify these problems. The first attempt to produce a new edition came with the ''Oxford English Dictionary Additions Series,'' a new set of supplements to complement the ''OED2'' with the intention of producing a third edition from them. The previous supplements appeared in alphabetical instalments, whereas the new series had a full A–Z range of entries within each individual volume, with a complete alphabetical index at the end of all words revised so far, each listed with the volume number which contained the revised entry. However, in the end only three ''Additions'' volumes were published this way, two in 1993 and one in 1997, each containing about 3,000 new definitions. The possibilities of the
World Wide Web The World Wide Web (WWW), commonly known as the Web, is an information system enabling documents and other web resources to be accessed over the Internet. Documents and downloadable media are made available to the network through web se ...
and new computer technology in general meant that the processes of researching the dictionary and of publishing new and revised entries could be vastly improved. New text search databases offered vastly more material for the editors of the dictionary to work with, and with publication on the Web as a possibility, the editors could publish revised entries much more quickly and easily than ever before. A new approach was called for, and for this reason it was decided to embark on a new, complete revision of the dictionary. * ''Oxford English Dictionary Additions Series'' Volume 1 (): Includes over 20,000 illustrative quotations showing the evolution of each word or meaning. :*?th impression (1994-02-10) * ''Oxford English Dictionary Additions Series'' Volume 2 () :*?th impression (1994-02-10) * ''Oxford English Dictionary Additions Series'' Volume 3 (): Contains 3,000 new words and meanings from around the English-speaking world. Published by Clarendon Press. :*?th impression (1997-10-09)

Third edition

Beginning with the launch of the first ''OED Online'' site in 2000, the editors of the dictionary began a major revision project to create a completely revised third edition of the dictionary (''OED3''), expected to be completed in 2037 at a projected cost of about £34 million. Revisions were started at the letter ''M'', with new material appearing every three months on the ''OED Online'' website. The editors chose to start the revision project from the middle of the dictionary in order that the overall quality of entries be made more even, since the later entries in the ''OED1'' generally tended to be better than the earlier ones. However, 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". With the relaunch of the ''OED Online'' website in December 2010, alphabetical revision was abandoned altogether. The revision is expected roughly to double the dictionary in size. Apart from general updates to include information on new words and other changes in the language, the third edition brings many other improvements, including changes in formatting and stylistic conventions for easier reading and computerized searching, more etymological information, and a general change of focus away from individual words towards more general coverage of the language as a whole. While the original text drew its quotations mainly from literary sources such as novels, plays, and poetry, with additional material from newspapers and academic journals, the new edition will reference more kinds of material that were unavailable to the editors of previous editions, such as wills, inventories, account books, diaries, journals, and letters. was the first chief editor of the ''OED3''. He retired in 2013 and was replaced by Michael Proffitt, who is the eighth chief editor of the dictionary. The production of the new edition exploits computer technology, particularly since the inauguration in June 2005 of the "Perfect All-Singing All-Dancing
Editorial An editorial, or leading article (UK) or leader (UK) is an article written by the senior Editorial board, editorial people or publisher of a newspaper, magazine, or any other written document, often unsigned. Australian and major United States ...
Notation In linguistics and semiotics, a notation is a system of graphics or symbols, Character_(symbol), characters and abbreviated Expression (language), expressions, used (for example) in Artistic disciplines, artistic and scientific disciplines to rep ...

application software, Application", or "Pasadena". With this XML-based system, lexicographers can spend less effort on presentation issues such as the numbering of definitions. This 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. Other important computer uses include internet searches for evidence of current usage and email submissions of quotations by readers and the general public.

New entries and words

''Wordhunt'' was a 2005 appeal to the general public for help in providing citations for 50 selected recent words, and produced antedating (lexicography), antedatings for many. The results were reported in a BBC TV series, ''Balderdash and Piffle''. The ''OED''s readers contribute quotations: the department currently receives about 200,000 a year. ''OED'' currently contains over 600,000 entries. They update the OED on a quarterly basis to make up for its Third Edition revising their existing entries and adding new words and senses.


Compact editions

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 N-up, four-up ("4-up") format. The two-volume letters were ''A'' and ''P''; the first supplement was at the second volume's end. The ''Compact Edition'' included, in a small slip-case drawer, a Bausch & Lomb magnifying glass to help in reading reduced type. Many copies were inexpensively distributed through Book sales club, book clubs. In 1987, the second supplement was published as a third volume to the ''Compact Edition''. In 1991, for the 20-volume ''OED2'' (1989), 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 ''Compact Oxford English Dictionary'' (second edition, 1991, ): Includes definitions of 500,000 words, 290,000 main entries, 137,000 pronunciations, 249,300 etymologies, 577,000 cross-references, over 2,412,000 illustrative quotations, and is again accompanied by a magnifying glass. :*?th impression (1991-12-05) File:Compact OED.jpg, The ''Compact Oxford English Dictionary'' (second edition, 1991). File:Compact OED entry.jpg, Part of an entry in the 1991 compact edition, with a centimetre scale showing the very small type sizes used.

Electronic versions

Once 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 1987. 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) included the ''Oxford English Dictionary'' ''Additions'' of 1993 and 1997. Version 3.0 was released in 2002 with additional words from the ''OED3'' and software improvements. Version 3.1.1 (2007) added 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 emulator, emulation programs. Version 4.0 of the CD has been available since June 2009 and works with Windows 7 and Mac OS X (10.4 or later). This version uses 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. The online database containing the ''OED2'' is updated quarterly with revisions that will be included in the ''OED3'' (see above). The online edition is the most up-to-date version of the dictionary available. The ''OED'' website is not optimized for mobile devices, but the developers have stated that there are plans to provide an API to facilitate the development of interfaces for querying the ''OED''. The price for an individual to use this edition is £195 or US$295 a year, even after a reduction in 2004; consequently, most subscribers are large organizations such as universities. Some public libraries and companies have also subscribed, including public libraries in the United Kingdom, where access is funded by the Arts Council of Great Britain, Arts Council, and public libraries in New Zealand. Individuals who belong to a library which subscribes to the service are able to use the service from their own home without charge. * ''Oxford English Dictionary'' Second edition on CD-ROM Version 3.1: :*Upgrade version for 3.0 (): ::*?th impression (2005-08-18) * ''Oxford English Dictionary'' Second edition on CD-ROM Version 4.0: Includes 500,000 words with 2.5 million source quotations, 7,000 new words and meanings. Includes Vocabulary from OED 2nd Edition and all 3 Additions volumes. Supports Windows 2000-7 and Mac OS X 10.4–10.5). Flash-based dictionary. :*Full version (/) ::*?th impression (2009-06-04) :*Upgrade version for 2.0 and above (/): Supports Windows only. ::*?th impression (2009-07-15) :*Print+CD-ROM version (): Supports Windows Vista and Mac OS). ::*?th impression (2009-11-16)

Relationship to other Oxford dictionaries

The ''OED''s utility and renown as a historical dictionary have led to numerous offspring projects and other dictionaries bearing the Oxford name, though not all are directly related to the ''OED'' itself. The ''Shorter Oxford English Dictionary,'' originally started in 1902 and completed in 1933, is an abridgement of the full work that retains the historical focus, but does not include any words which were obsolete before 1700 except those used by Shakespeare, John Milton, Milton, Edmund Spenser, Spenser, and the King James Bible. A completely new edition was produced from the ''OED2'' and published in 1993, with revisions in 2002 and 2007. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, ''Concise Oxford Dictionary'' is a different work, which aims to cover current English only, without the historical focus. The original edition, mostly based on the ''OED1'', was edited by Francis George Fowler and Henry Watson Fowler and published in 1911, before the main work was completed. Revised editions appeared throughout the twentieth century to keep it up to date with changes in English usage. ''The Pocket Oxford Dictionary of Current English'' was originally conceived by F. G. Fowler and H. W. Fowler to be compressed, compact, and concise. Its primary source is the Oxford English Dictionary, and it is nominally an abridgement of the Concise Oxford Dictionary. It was first published in 1924. In 1998 the ''New Oxford Dictionary of English'' (''NODE'') was published. While also aiming to cover current English, ''NODE'' was not based on the ''OED''. Instead, it was an entirely new dictionary produced with the aid of corpus linguistics. Once ''NODE'' was published, a similarly brand-new edition of the ''Concise Oxford Dictionary'' followed, this time based on an abridgement of ''NODE'' rather than the ''OED''; ''NODE'' (under the new title of the ''Oxford Dictionary of English'', or ''ODE'') continues to be principal source for Oxford's product line of current-English dictionaries, including the ''New Oxford American Dictionary'', with the ''OED'' now only serving as the basis for scholarly historical dictionaries.


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 is mainly derived from the Greek suffix ''-ιζειν'', (''-izein''), or the Latin ''-izāre''. However, ''-ze'' is also sometimes treated as an American English#Morphology, 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.

Reception and criticism

British prime minister Stanley Baldwin described the ''OED'' as a "national treasure". Author Anu Garg, founder of Wordsmith.org, has called it a "lex icon". Tim Bray, co-creator of Extensible Markup Language (XML), credits the ''OED'' as the developing inspiration of that markup language. However, despite its claims of authority, the dictionary has been criticized since the 1960s because of its scope, its claims to authority, its British-centredness and relative neglect of World Englishes, its implied but unacknowledged focus on literary language and, above all, its influence. The ''OED'', as a commercial product, has always had to steer a line between scholarship and marketing. In his review of the 1982 supplement, University of Oxford linguist Roy Harris (linguist), Roy Harris writes that criticizing 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". He further notes that neologisms from respected "literary" authors such as Samuel Beckett and Virginia Woolf are included, whereas usage of words in newspapers or other less "respectable" sources holds less sway, even though they may be commonly used. 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", faulting the dictionary's prescriptive grammar, prescriptive rather than descriptive grammar, 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. However, the identification of "erroneous and catachrestic" usages is being removed from third edition entries, sometimes in favour of usage notes describing the attitudes to language which have previously led to these classifications. Another avenue of criticism is the dictionary's non-inclusion of
etymologies Etymology ()The New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998) – p. 633 "Etymology /ˌɛtɪˈmɒlədʒi/ the study of the class in words and the way their meanings have changed throughout time". is the study of the history of the Phonological chan ...
for words of AAVE or African language origin such as ''wikt:jazz, jazz'', ''wikt:dig#Etymology_2, dig'' or ''wikt:badmouth, badmouth'' (the latter two are possibly of Wolof language, Wolof and Mandinka language, Mandinka languages, respectively). As of 2022, OUP is preparing a specialized ''Oxford Dictionary of African American English'' in collaboration with Harvard University's Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, with literary critic Henry Louis Gates Jr. being the project's editor-in-chief. 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. However, no English dictionary included such words, for fear of possible prosecution under British obscenity laws, until after the conclusion of the R v Penguin Books Ltd., ''Lady Chatterley's Lover'' obscenity trial in 1960. The ''Penguin English Dictionary'' of 1965 was the first dictionary that included the word ''fuck''. Joseph Wright (linguist), Joseph Wright's ''English Dialect Dictionary'' had included ''shit'' in 1905. The ''OED''s claims of authority have also been questioned by linguists such as Pius ten Hacken, who notes that the dictionary actively strives toward definitiveness and authority but can only achieve those goals in a limited sense, given the difficulties of defining the scope of what it includes. Founding editor James Murray was also reluctant to include scientific terms, despite their documentation, unless he felt that they were widely enough used. In 1902, he declined to add the word "radium" to the dictionary.Gross, John, ''The Oxford Book of Parodies'', Oxford University Press, 2010, pg. 319

See also

* ''Australian Oxford Dictionary'' * ''Canadian Oxford Dictionary'' * ''Compact Oxford English Dictionary of Current English'' * ''Concise Oxford English Dictionary'' * ''New Oxford American Dictionary'' * ''Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary'' * ''Shorter Oxford English Dictionary'' * ''A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles'' * ''The Australian National Dictionary'' * ''Dictionary of American Regional English''


Further reading

* * * * * * * * * * (McPherson is Senior Editor of OED) * * * * *

External links

* *
Archive of documents
including *** Richard Chenevix Trench, Trench's origina
"On some deficiencies in our English Dictionaries"
paper *** James Murray (lexicographer), Murray's origina
appeal for readers
** Thei
page of ''OED'' statistics
another such page
** Two   from the OED. * Oxford University Press pages
Second EditionAdditions Series Volume 1Additions Series Volume 2Additions Series Volume 3''The Compact Oxford English Dictionary'' New Edition20-volume printed set+CD-ROMCD 3.1 upgradeCD 4.0 fullCD 4.0 upgrade

1st edition

; Internet Archive :''1888–1933 Issue'' :Full title of each volume: ''A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles: Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by the Philological Society'' :: :''1933 Corrected re-issue'' :Full title of each volume: ''The Oxford English Dictionary: Being a Corrected Re-issue with an Introduction, Supplement and Bibliography, of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles: Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by the Philological Society'' :: ; HathiTrust * Some volumes (only available from within the USA): *
University of Virginia copy
Princeton University copy
University of Michigan copy
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