Today In History: The Oxford English Dictionary Debuts
Today in 1884, the first passage from the Oxford English Dictionary was published. The Oxford English Dictionary is the gold standard of dictionaries, and still considered the final authority on what words are considered valid and invalid.
The Dictionary has its origins in the Philological Society, a London based organization who were concerned about the lack of consistent and accurate dictionaries on offer in the world. They endeavored to compile a single text that would comprehensively account for every known word in the English language.
The Philological Society anticipated that the Dictionary would take a decade to complete. It actually took four decades. The final, complete draft of the Oxford English Dictionary wasn’t released until 1928. It consisted of about 400,000 words, vastly more than the original estimate of 6,400. It was originally published as A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles.
The Oxford English Dictionary is distinct from other dictionaries in that it lists all of a given word’s meanings throughout the history of its usage. The OED is so thoroughgoing that a single word can encompass hundreds of different meanings and associated quotations and references. Famously, the word “set” has an account in the dictionary that is over 60,000 words long.
The Oxford English Dictionary got its current name in 1933, when a revision was published that expanded it from ten to twelve volumes.
The OED is now accessible online. It is updated with about four thousand new words and revisions every year. In its hardcopy form, it now spans twenty volumes.