Sorting of quotations

Choosing which words to include

New words and meanings are principally selected for inclusion in the dictionary on the basis of their currency in the language (present or past), and editors use a number of factors to gauge this.

Traditionally, editors or research assistants have sorted through the OED‘s own quotation-card collection (derived mainly from its reading programmes) in search of new material to add to the dictionary. The advent of enormous large-scale text databases (corpora) has meant that editors are now also able to search these in order to help them to assess the frequency of occurrence and meaning of potential new entries.

The initial decision to include a new term can be made at any point in the editorial process, but these decisions are usually made by New Words editors and Revision editors. Even if a word is initially rejected, any evidence for its existence is held in the OED‘s files and databases, in case further supporting material comes to light. The OED‘s files contain thousands of words for which we have only a single example, many of them dating back decades or even centuries.

Does the OED include every word in the language? No. The dictionary aims to include an enormous number of words and meanings, but some do not meet the selection criteria. In addition, the OED does not as a rule include words attested in the Old English period, if they did not survive into Middle English (1150 onwards)

Does the OED ever delete an entry, to make way for other words? No. Once an entry has been published in the OED it remains in the dictionary. If it has long fallen out of use, it will be relabelled as obsolete, but retained as part of the record of the language

Once a term has been selected for potential inclusion in the OED, the process of editing can begin.

Editing of entries