Dictionary Milestones

A chronology of events relevant to the history of the OED

1857 In November, Richard Chenevix Trench presents two papers to the Philological Society, later published as On Some Deficiencies in Our English Dictionaries.

1858 The Philological Society passes resolution, as a result of Trench’s papers, to compile a complete New English Dictionary, and volunteer readers are recruited to contribute words and illustrative quotations.

1859 The Society publishes full details of the dictionary project in a ‘Proposal for the Publication of A New English Dictionary by the Philological Society’. Herbert Coleridge’s Glossarial Index to the Printed English Literature of the Thirteenth Century is published and later that year he prepares the ‘Canones Lexicographici; or Rules to be observed in editing the New English Dictionary’. Hon. G. P. Marsh of Burlington, Vermont, offers to organize American contributions to the dictionary.

1860 After considerable debate and revision, Coleridge’s ‘Rules’ are issued as a final plan for the dictionary.

1861 Herbert Coleridge dies at the age of 31 and Frederick Furnivall is appointed editor.

1862 Furnivall proposes a concise dictionary, tentatively to be completed by 1865, as a preliminary to the larger work.

1864 Furnivall founds the Early English Text Society to transcribe and publish rare and inaccessible manuscripts, particularly of the Middle English period.

1868 James A. H. Murray joins the Philological Society. His Dialect of the Southern Counties of Scotland is published.

1869 Murray begins editing texts for Furnivall’s Early English Text Society.

1871 Furnivall appeals for a new editor for the dictionary and persuades Henry Nicol to take the job, but illness and other work prevent him from pursuing the task.

1873 English Dialect Society founded at Cambridge by Walter Skeat.

1874 Murray awarded an honorary LL.D by Edinburgh University.

1875 Furnivall again seeks a new editor and suggests Murray’s name.

1876 Murray is approached by the publishing firm of Macmillan regarding possibility of editing a new standard English Dictionary for Macmillan and US publisher Harper, using the Philological Society’s material. Negotiations are later terminated. Furnivall makes overtures to Oxford University Press (OUP) for publication of the Society’s dictionary.

1877 Henry Sweet, as President of the Philological Society, formally writes to the Secretary to the Delegates of the Oxford University Press, proposing that the Society make its material available to compile a historical dictionary.

1879 Philological Society signs contract with the Clarendon Press (OUP) for publication of the Dictionary. Murray also reaches agreement with the Press to become editor and has a Scriptorium built to house the editorial staff. He decides that a new Reading Programme is necessary, and the Clarendon Press issues an appeal for 1,000 readers for three years. Professor F. A. March of Lafayette College, Pennsylvania, undertakes the organization and supervision of volunteer readers in the United States. Publication of Walter Skeat’s Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (1879-82).

1884 Part 1 published (A to ANT). Murray’s suggestion that the title be revised to A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (NED) is adopted.

1885 Murray gives up his position at the Mill Hill School and moves to Banbury Road, Oxford to work on the Dictionary full time. A new Scriptorium is erected.

1886 Henry Bradley is appointed to assist on letter ‘B’ with the intention that he later become an independent editor.

1888 Bradley becomes the second editor with his own staff working at the British Museum in London.

1895 Charles Talbot Onions joins Dictionary staff at Murray’s request. The designation ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ appears for the first time above the title on the cover of the section DECEIT to DEJECT published on 1 January.

1896 The Press adopts policy of publishing 64-page quarterly sections (352 pages to a volume) to be sold at half a crown each. Bradley moves to Oxford and is housed, with his own staff, in the Clarendon Press building. Publication of first volume of the English Dialect Dictionary (1896-1905).

1897 William Alexander Craigie joins staff and starts work on letter ‘G’ under Bradley’s supervision.

1898 By permission, the Dictionary is dedicated to Queen Victoria.

1900 Murray gives Romanes Lecture at Oxford, entitled The Evolution of English Lexicography.

1901 Craigie appointed as the third independent editor. Bradley and Craigie, together with their staffs, move to the Old Ashmolean.

1908 James Murray receives knighthood.

1910 Frederick Furnivall dies.

1914 Outbreak of World War I, which deprives Dictionary of many younger staff members and delays its completion. Charles Talbot Onions appointed third editor. Oxford University awards Murray and Bradley honorary D.Litt. and Onions honorary MA.

1915 Murray dies on 26 July. His Dictionary staff is transferred to the Old Ashmolean.

1918 End of War and return of some staff.

1923 Bradley dies on 23 May.

1925 Craigie accepts appointment at the University of Chicago, but continues to work on Dictionary.

1928 Work on first edition completed. Dictionary is published in ten volumes still carrying title A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles followed by ‘founded mainly on the materials collected by the Philological Society’. First copies are presented to King George V and to Calvin Coolidge, President of the United States. Craigie receives knighthood for his work on the Dictionary.

1933 Dictionary reissued in twelve volumes, together with a Supplement volume containing new words and meanings, a list of spurious words, and a bibliography. The title is now officially changed to the Oxford English Dictionary, followed by the phrase ‘being a corrected re-issue with an Introduction, Supplement, and Bibliography of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles’.

1936 The first volume of the four-volume, historical Dictionary of American English, edited by Craigie (with James R. Hulbert), published.

1957 William Craigie dies. Robert W. Burchfield accepts invitation of the Delegates of the Press to edit the Supplement, which it is projected will be a single volume taking seven years to complete. Editorial offices are established at No. 40 Walton Crescent, Oxford and a new Reading Programme is launched.

1965 Charles Talbot Onions, the fourth editor of the OED, dies.

1971 Compact version of the First Edition and 1933 Supplement is published in 2 volumes.

1972 First volume (A to G) of the Supplement published.

1976 Second volume (H to N) published, which includes a dedication of the whole work to Queen Elizabeth II.

1982 Publication of third volume of Supplement (O to SCZ).

1984 Edmund Weiner is appointed editor of the Dictionary. On May 15th, OUP formally announces launching of the New OED Project. Decision is made to include approximately 5,000 new words or new senses in the proposed second edition; a complete revision of the Dictionary is planned for Phase II of the project.

1986 John Simpson becomes co-editor of the Dictionary. Publication of the final volume of the Supplement.

1989 The 20-volume Second Edition of the OED published on 30 March.

1991 Compact version of the Second Edition published.

1992 CD-ROM of the Second Edition released.

1993 John Simpson becomes Chief Editor of the OED.

1993 Revision programme begins.

1993 Volumes 1 and 2 of the Additions Series published on 25 November.

1997 OED Online project begins.

1997 Volume 3 of the Additions Series published on 24 July.

1999 Version 2.0 of the CD-ROM released in October.

1999 Formation of a new North American Editorial Unit.

2000 Launch of OED Online on 14 March. Users can search either second edition entries or the small set of revised (third edition) entries, which is added to every three months.

2002 Version 3.0 of the CD-ROM released in January.

2004 Robert Burchfield dies on 5 July.

2004 Version 3.1 of the CD-ROM released in October.

2004 OED Online‘s main content is changed (December) to a single A to Z sequence of new, revised, and second edition entries.

2003-5 A new editorial computing system (Pasadena), with new data design (XML) is developed in conjunction with French software company IDM.

2007 Additional revisions published of high-profile words outside the main revised alphabetical sequence (air, climate, computer, eco-, gene, America, etc.).

2009 Version 4.0 of the CD-ROM released in June

2008-10 Project to rebuild and enhance OED Online: new version launched on 30 November 2010.