Dictionary Milestones

A chronology of events relevant to the history of the OED

1857  At the suggestion of Frederick J. Furnivall, the Philological Society of London establishes ‘a Committee to collect unregistered words in English’. Richard Chenevix Trench delivers a paper On some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries to the Society.

1858  The Society resolves to begin preparing a new dictionary of English.

1859  The Society produces its Proposal for the Publication of a New English Dictionary (usually abbreviated as NED). Herbert Coleridge is appointed as its first editor. An appeal is made for American scholars to help the project by ‘reading books and noting words’ for inclusion.

1861  Coleridge dies, and Furnivall is appointed as editor in his place.

1879  Oxford University Press agrees to publish and finance the project, and James Murray, president of the Philological Society, is appointed editor. Murray issues An Appeal to the…English-Reading Public to read Books and make Extracts for the…New English Dictionary.

1884  The first part or fascicle of the NED, covering A–Ant, is published on 29 January (1 February in the United States).

1885  James Murray moves to Oxford in June to work on the Dictionary full-time.

1887  Henry Bradley appointed as an independent second editor.

1901   W. A. Craigie joins Murray and Bradley as a third editor.

1914  C. T. Onions joins the project as the fourth editor.

1915  James Murray dies, and Henry Bradley becomes the senior editor at work on the dictionary.

1919  J. R. R. Tolkien joins the NED for a little over a year, working on words beginning with W.

1923  Henry Bradley dies, leaving Craigie and Onions to complete the project.

1928  On 19 April the last fascicle of the NED is published. The completed dictionary is made up of 12 volumes and contains 15,487 pages, defining 414,825 words.

1933  A reprint—with a one-volume Supplement—is issued as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

1957  R. W. Burchfield is appointed as editor of a new Supplement to the OED.

1972  The first volume of the new Supplement appears, complete with the two strongest ‘four-letter words’, which had been omitted from the First Edition and Supplement.

1984  Work begins on a New Oxford English Dictionary, with Edmund Weiner as editor.

1986  The fourth and final volume of the Supplement appears. John Simpson, who has been working on the Supplement, joins Weiner as co-editor of the New OED.

1987  The OED appears in electronic form (on a double CD-ROM) for the first time

1989  The second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED2) appears in print as 20 volumes containing 21,728 pages and costing £1,500. It defines over half a million words (including 5,000 added since the Supplement), and is illustrated by more than 2.4 million quotations.

1992  OED2 becomes available on CD-ROM.

1993  John Simpson is appointed Chief Editor, and work begins on the first wholesale revision of the Dictionary—the Third Edition, or OED3. The first two volumes of Additions are published.

1997  Work begins on an online version of the OED. The third and final volume of Additions appears.

2000  OED Online is launched. It includes the first batch of revised entries from OED3, M–mahurat.

2001  New words from outside the alphabetic revision sequence begin to be published in OED Online.

2008  The first batch of revised entries from outside the alphabetic sequence is published online.

2009  A Historical Thesaurus of the OED appears, providing a systematic inventory of 800,000 senses from the OED and other sources.

2010  Alphabetical revision reaches the end of R, meaning that OED3 entries from M–Ryvita are now online.

2013  John Simpson retires, and Michael Proffitt is appointed Chief Editor.

2020 The OED currently defines more than 636,000 lexical items, with around 864,000 separate senses, illustrated by over 3.7 million quotations drawn from over 1,000 years of the written history of English. More than forty percent of the dictionary has been revised, with new and revised words from across the alphabet appearing each quarter.