In 1857 the members of the Philological Society of London decided that the available english language dictionary were terrible. They thought they could do better. They new it was a huge project, but they didn’t know just how bad it was going to get.
The project proceeded at a snails pace. It wasn’t until 1879 that the Society made a deal with the Oxford University Press and James A.H. Murray to begin on a new English Dictionary.
It was to be a 4 volume work, 6,400 pages in all. It would include English language vocabulary from Early Middle English Period (1150 AD) to present. It was estimated that the project would take about 10 years. But 5 years later, they had only reached ‘ant’. By Feb 1, 1884 they had published the first part of the dictionary.
In April 1928 the last volume was published. It was no longer a 4 volume, 6,400 page work. The project had ballooned into a 10 volume 400,000 page work.
Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages – This book is about a man who spends a year reading the OED. This is on my list of books to read and I’m looking forward to it. From the book description: “Shea shares his year inside the OED, delivering a hair-pulling, eye-crossing account of reading every word.”
Concise Oxford English Dictionary: 11th Edition Revised 2008 – Take a go of it yourself and read the OED cover to cover. If you do please let me know what you thought of the project.
In this video is the Yale University Library and Oxford University Press sponsored a panel lecture on October 1, 2008 to celebrate the 80th birthday of the Oxford English Dictionary, the comprehensive dictionary of the English language. The speakers were Fred Shapiro, Simon Winchester, Jesse Sheidlower, and Ammon Shea, and each brought unique and engaging insights to this discussion of the history, function, and future of the dictionary.