Thursday, October 27, 2016

5 Facts About the Oxford English Dictionary

One of the largest "books" in the library's collection is the Oxford English Dictionary, or the OED. The OED is a staple for library reference, containing definitions of around 600,000 words in the English language in 20 volumes. Here are six facts about the OED:

1. A response to bad information

The project began to create a "correct" English dictionary, started by Philological Society of London in 1857. The group made an publishing agreement with Oxford University Press in 1879. "Philological" means the branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages. The Philological Society of London is still in operation. 

2. A lot of work

Original estimates said the work would last around 10 years. After five years working on the dictionary, they had only gotten to 'ant.'

3. Final publication was longer and later.

The original plan was to publish the dictionary in 10 years and end up with a four volume set. The first volume, or to be technical "fascicle," was published in 1884. The final publication was in 1928, nearly four decades after the start with a ten volume set of over 400,000 words and phrases. 

4. Became digital before several other reference works

The OED went digital with a 1992 CD-ROM edition that slimmed the now twenty-volume set weighing 150 pounds to a simple, single disc. This was a year before Microsoft launched Encarta, two years before Britannica made their online debut (although they had a CD-ROM launched after Encarta), and nearly a decade before Wikipedia launched in 2001.

5. It hasn't made money, ever

According to Oxford University Press, the OED has never been commercially profitable. The publishing house claims they continue to publish the work "to sustaining research into the origins and development of the English language wherever it is spoken." 

Oxford University Press maintains a commitment to publishing this document as a testament to history. The OED is a living document, always changing with new words and phrases and information about how English speakers the world over adapt the language. 


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