Renewing Our Commitment to the OED

Renewing Our Commitment to the OED

Over the last year, the Oxford Languages group, which is made up of the OED team alongside our other dictionary projects and teams, has been reviewing its organizational structure and ways of working. We’re aware that some friends and supporters of the OED are concerned about how these changes might affect its future position as the definitive historical guide to the English language and we want to provide a bit more detail about these changes and why they’re happening now.

The following post, written by members of the OED leadership team, contains a short summary of how these new ways of working are designed to enhance the editorial development of the programme and keep apace of emerging research needs.  It is important to note that the changes do not affect our commitment to, or ongoing investment in, the OED. We are pleased to share these plans with our community of supporters, and look forward to seeing the benefits for all of OED’s users worldwide.

The aim of this change work has been to better position the department to meet the needs of the academic community as scholarly research methods evolve. This research shift is being driven by new digital workflows and tools, methods of computational learning, and technological advancements. This means we need to anticipate and respond to new uses of our data, particularly in respect to the OED, to ensure we remain core to the academic research experience. 

The OED editorial leadership team has taken a strong hand in the development of the change initiative, and we are confident that these changes will help us maintain the editorial quality and progress of the revision programme.  The future editorial integrity of the endeavor is essential to a large community of scholars and researchers that rely on the OED in their work. As a scholar recently noted, ‘OUP’s responsibility to this project is a great one, and it is ultimately owed to a very wide community,’ and it’s with this sensibility in mind that we have proceeded with the initiative.  

Casper Grathwohl
President, Oxford Languages

Note on Editorial Development and the OED Milestones Initiative

Since the launch of the OED website 20 years ago, the OED editorial project has made numerous incremental changes in editorial practices, but the fundamental approach of revising all components of each entry in their entirety before publication has not changed. The website therefore presents a hybrid text, in which some entries are fully revised and others wholly unrevised; this inhibits holistic analysis of the OED dataset and delays implementation of important corrections and updates. Our current efforts are concentrated on finding ways of alleviating this situation, and removing constraints in accessing OED data for research purposes through or other means, while (as throughout the last decade) continuing with targeted revision of material most in need of thorough reassessment.

To accelerate the benefits of OED’s revision, the project is launching a new initiative, OED Milestones, through which the editorial team will implement cross-textual improvements to the dictionary alongside traditional entry-by-entry revision, as well as making the OED’s data accessible to scholars in new ways. The new approach to editing will be flexible and dynamic, but will in no way compromise the integrity and quality of the OED’s research. In order to facilitate these new ways of working, the project is also implementing some changes to its editorial structure.

We do not anticipate that the new ways of working or structural changes will inhibit progress on editorial revision, and in fact we look to accelerate the revision of elements that are most important to academic researchers. Some of the positive things these changes have been designed to better enable us to do include:

Expanded editorial activities –

  • Continuing the targeted updating of OED’s coverage of words with the greatest longevity and frequency, and which exhibit the greatest historical, semantic, and cultural complexity
  • Prioritizing those entries or parts of entries which stand in most urgent need of revision
  • Making spot-corrections to inaccurate or outdated entries
  • Improving coverage of global varieties of English
  • Supplying etymologies or lists of historical spelling variants in cases where these are not currently given
  • Developing data which can show changing frequency of words and senses over time.

More productive connections with users and the scholarly community –

  • Improving channels and infrastructure for scholars to report their findings to the OED and comment on existing dictionary content
  • Enabling researchers to make use of datasets extracted from across the OED to support research in a wide variety of fields
  • Making use of partnerships to develop better tools and methodological approaches, and to work with subject specialists to develop OED content that meets the needs of a wide audience.

Improved access to the OED’s content –

  • Ensuring that the future instantiation of is optimized for the academic user, with flexibility for continuous development
  • Defining and implementing an interconnected strategy to place the OED as the organic starting point for research, including implementation and display of identifiers to enable OED to function as essential infrastructure for work on the English lexicon.

As members of the OED’s editorial leadership team, we are excited to embark upon this new phase in the project’s history, and look forward to sharing the practical results of these changes with our users in the months and years to come.

Michael Proffitt
Chief Editor, OED
Oxford Languages

Katherine Martin
Head of Language Content & Data
Oxford Languages

Philip Durkin
Deputy Chief Editor, OED
Oxford Languages

The opinions and other information contained in the OED blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.