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history of the OED

History of the OED

The Oxford English Dictionary has been the last word on words for over a century. But, as with a respected professor or admired parent, we count on its wisdom and authority without thinking much about how it was acquired. What is the history of the Oxford English Dictionary? Exploring its origins and development will give […]


The number of people who contributed quotations to the First Edition of the OED runs into four figures. Many individuals contributed thousands of quotations, but sheer volume is not the best measure of significance, as out of all of the quotations sent in, only a selection were included in the published dictionary. The readers The […]

Dictionary Editors

In this section we give brief biographies of the chief editors of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Dictionary Facts

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 […]

Dictionary Milestones

A chronology of events relevant to the history of the OED Dictionary milestones in reverse chronological order 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. […]

First edition staff and contributors

1. Contributors A. This list contains the names of the principal readers before 1884; many of these began reading as early as 1858. The material which they contributed formed a great part of the main foundation on which the Dictionary was based. Under some of the names the number of quotations sent in is given, […]

First Edition of the OED

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 […]