How are words added to the OED?
Words come into the English language in all manner of ways. The Oxford English Dictionary’s mission is to record all of these word stories, capturing their development as they continue to unfold.
For a word to be considered for inclusion in the OED, it must first be added to the dictionary’s ‘watch list’ database. Contributions to this watch list come from an enormous variety of sources – from the OED’s own reading programmes to crowdsourcing appeals with the general public, and increasingly from automated monitoring and analysis of massive databases of language in use.
The OED’s editors consider thousands of word suggestions from these sources every year, reviewing each and every one. Words that have not yet accumulated enough evidence for permanent record in the OED remain on the watch list for continued monitoring, while suggestions for words with sufficiently sustained and widespread use are assigned to an editor.
Editors begin by reviewing the information gathered so far for their assigned word before embarking on their own research to trace the word’s development. This research might lead them to search newspaper archives, online forums, academic studies, magazines, law tracts, recipe books, or social media for published evidence of the word. If a key example is available in a library or archive beyond digital access, editors also have the opportunity to enlist the help of the OED’s network of researchers, who are based at institutions around the world, to track down the elusive example.
Once an editor has pieced together a detailed picture of the word, they begin to draft the dictionary entry to record it in the OED. For words without an existing OED entry, this begins with the word itself – called the headword – and includes its pronunciation, forms, etymology, definition, example quotations, and any other senses or associated phrases it may have. For new senses of existing words, these are included in their chronological position in the entry, with the definition and example quotations.
This work involves several specialist teams at the OED, such as the pronunciation editors, who create the audio files and transcriptions that reflect a word’s most common pronunciations, and the bibliographers, who review the quotations to ensure that sources are cited accurately.
Once the dictionary entry has been signed off by each team, it is passed on to the finalization team, which includes the dictionary’s Chief and Deputy Chief Editors, for the final stamp of approval before it takes its place in the OED.
Completed entries are published in quarterly updates on OED Online, and each update is accompanied by release notes looking at key themes and notable new additions from the latest crop of words.