OED editions

The Oxford English Dictionary was originally published in fascicles between 1884 and 1928. A one-volume supplement was published in 1933, and four further supplementary volumes were published between 1972 and 1986. In 1989, a complete Second Edition was published, consisting of the original OED amalgamated with the supplementary volumes, and together with 5,000 completely new entries. In 1993 and 1997, three volumes of Additions to the Second Edition were published. (For more details, see the history of the Dictionary.)

The OED is now, for the first time, being completely revised, with the aim of producing an updated Third Edition. (For more details, see the preface to the Third Edition.)

The prefaces to the previous editions of the OED, and a list of staff and contributors to each edition, can be explored in the following sections:

The First Edition

The First Edition of the Dictionary was originally issued in short parts or sections—now often called ‘fascicles’—as well as in volumes (and, later, half-volumes). The earliest fascicles were called ‘parts’, and contained over 300 pages. From 1894 it was decided to issue shorter fascicles called ‘sections’; a typical section contained 64 or 72 pages. The aim was to produce at least one section every quarter; sometimes it was possible to issue a ‘double section’, or even on occasion a ‘triple section’, containing twice or three times the usual number of pages. It continued to be possible to purchase the Dictionary in the form of ‘parts’ of roughly the same size as the earliest fascicles, these being generally equivalent to five single sections. Many parts and sections were issued with Prefaces—or, in some cases, short prefatory notes—written by the relevant Editor; in addition, when a volume, or a half-volume, or a particular letter was completed, a separate Preface might be produced for it. This section includes all of the known Prefaces issued during the publication of the First Edition (1884–1928).

Many of the prefaces listed below have been available for some years in printed form as Dispatches from the Front (UW Centre for the New OED, 1987), edited by Dr Darrell Raymond, formerly of the University of Waterloo (Ontario). Dr Raymond has kindly supplemented and reformatted his text for online access.

First Edition staff and contributors
Biographical information about contributors to the First Edition
A closer look at well-known contributors to the First Edition

Volume I: A and B

Volume II: C

Volume III: D and E

Volume IV: F and G

Volume V: H to K

Volume VI: L, M, and N

Volume VII: O and P

Volume VIII: Q, R, and S-Sh

Volume IX: SI – ST and SU – TH

Volume X: TI – TZ and U

The New English Dictionary reissued as The Oxford English Dictionary

Some facts about the First Edition

Proposed size: 4 volumes, 6,400 pages (with provision for ‘a larger dictionary containing not fewer than 10 volumes, each containing not less than 1,600 pages’)

Actual size: 10 volumes, 15,490 pages

Proposed time to complete: 10 years

Actual time to complete: 70 years (from approval date)

Publication date: 1884-1928 in 128 fascicles. Published in 10 volumes in 1928 and reissued in 12 volumes in 1933, with addition of one-volume Supplement

Price of fascicles: 12 shillings and sixpence for large sections

Price of bound volumes (1928): from 50 to 55 guineas for the set, depending on binding

Number of pages edited by James Murray: est., 7,200

Number of entries: 252,200

Number of word forms defined and/or illustrated: 414,800

Number of contributors (readers): est. 2,000

Number of quotations submitted by contributors: est. 5 million

Number of quotations used in Dictionary: 1,861,200

Number of authors represented in quotations: 2,700

Number of works represented in quotations: 4,500

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The Second Edition

The Second Edition of the Dictionary, published in 1989, was an amalgamation of the text of the First Edition with that of the Supplement produced in 1972–86, combined with approximately five thousand entries for new words and meanings.

Some facts about the Second Edition

Proposed size: 20 volumes

Actual size: 20 volumes, 21,730 pages

Publication date: 1989

Weight of text: 62.6 kilos or 137.72 lbs.

Amount of ink used to print complete run: 2,830 kilos or 6,243 lbs.

Number of words in entire text: 59 million

Number of printed characters: 350 million

Number of different typographical characters used in text: approx.: 750 (660 special plus approx. 90 on regular keyboard)

Equivalent person years used to ‘key in’ text to convert to machine-readable form: 120

Equivalent person years to proof-read text: 60

Number of megabytes of electronic storage required for text: 540

Number of entries: 291,500

Number of main entries: 231,100

Number of main entries for obsolete words: 47,100

Number of main entries for spurious words: 240

Number of main entries for non-naturalized words: 12,200

Longest entry in Dictionary: the verb ‘set’ with over 430 senses consisting of approximately 60,000 words or 326,000 characters

Number of cross-reference entries: 60,400

Number of cross-references within entries: 580,600

Number of word forms defined and/or illustrated: 615,100

Number of pronunciations: 139,900

Number of etymologies: 219,800

Number of quotations: 2,436,600

Most frequently quoted work (in various full and partial version, and translations): Bible (est. 25,000 quotations)

Most frequently quoted single author: Shakespeare (approx. 33,300 quotations)

Most frequently quoted single work of Shakespeare: Hamlet (almost 1,600 quotations)

Percentage of quotations by centuries: 
20th century 20 per cent
19th century 31
18th century 11
17th century 16
16th century 10
15th century 4.5
14th century 3.5
13th century 1
1st to 12th centuries 1
Undated (see note) 0.5

Note: ‘Undated’ includes approximately 1,250 quotations from Beowulf, with the balance consisting of proverbs, nursery rhymes, ‘made up’ illustrations, and references to the appearance of word forms ‘in mod. Dicts.’

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Additions to the Second Edition

After publication of the Second Edition, further entries for new words and meanings continued to be compiled, with the intention that they should eventually be included in the Third Edition of the Dictionary. It was decided to publish collections of these entries in a series of volumes, under the title ‘OED Additions Series’. Volumes 1 and 2 of the Series appeared in 1993, and Volume 3 in 1997. The series was then discontinued in favour of online publication (of both new and revised entries), which began in 2000.

Some facts about the Additions Series

Volume 1

Number of entries (new senses added): 3152
Number of pages: 334

Volume 2

Number of entries (new senses added): 3335
Number of pages: 336

Volume 3

Number of entries (new senses added): 3319
Number of pages: 352

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Supplements to the OED

A one-volume Supplement to the Dictionary was issued in 1933. In 1957 work began on a revised and expanded version of this Supplement, which eventually appeared in four volumes in 1972–1986.

Some facts about the Supplements

Proposed size: one volume, 1,300 pages

Actual size: 4 volumes, 5,730 pages

Proposed time to complete: 7 years

Actual time to complete: 30 years

Publication date: vol. 1, 1972; vol. 2, 1976; vol. 3, 1982; vol. 4, 1986

Number of entries: 69,300

Number of quotations: est. 527,000

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The Third Edition

Work on the Third Edition began in the new millennium when the dictionary moved online, and is an ongoing project. Updates adding hundreds of new and revised words are published quarterly.

The online Dictionary contains the complete A to Z sequence of the Second Edition, its three-volume Additions Series, and also draft material from the revision programme, which represents the latest progress towards the Third Edition. More revised and new entries will be added to the online Dictionary every quarter, and these will eventually cumulate to form the complete new edition.