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Language Development

Ianastasija Omoore
Ianastasija Omoore

Oxford English Dictionary

Oxford English Dictionary =====

Oxford English Dictionary

The OED started life more than 150 years ago. Today, the dictionary is in the process of its first major revision. Updates revise and extend the OED at regular intervals, each time subtly adjusting our image of the English language.

Eighty years ago, the "greatest work in dictionary-making ever undertaken" was completed. And with its enormous range, unparalleled historical depth, detailed etymologies, and inexhaustible supply of illustrative quotations, it has enriched the lives of writers, readers, and word-lovers of all stripes ever since. Begun in 1857, published in ten volumes in 1928, subsequently revised and expanded to 20 volumes in 1989, and now adopted to the electronic age, the OED has become the most venerated and most beloved English-language reference ever compiled. The key feature of the OED, of course, is its unique historical focus. Accompanying each definition is a chronologically arranged group of quotations that illustrate the evolution of meaning from the word's first recorded usage and show the contexts in which it can be used. The quotations are drawn from a huge variety of sources--literary, scholarly, technical, popular-and represent authors as disparate as Geoffrey Chaucer and Erica Jong, William Shakespeare and Raymond Chandler, Charles Darwin and John Le Carre. In all, nearly 2.5 million quotations--illustrating over a half-million words--can be found in the OED. Other features distinguishing the entries in the dictionary are the most authoritative definitions, detailed information on pronunciation, variant spellings throughout each word's history, extensive treatment of etymology, and details of area of usage and of any regional characteristics (including geographical origins). A dictionary like no other in the world, the OED has been described as "among the wonders of the world of scholarship." Reflecting upon the Dictionary's 80 years, that statement is today more apt than it ever has been. Also available online at:

"The richest people in the world are those who have the OED on their shelves. Here is the greatest treasure of words waiting to be assembled into fiery tracts and rants, literary novels, histories, sagas, comic poems, exposes, polemics, tall tales and learned treatises, kids' books, advert copy, reports on busted dams and declarations, all the expressions of a hundred different cultures. And the sturdy boxes in which the dictionary comes are each the perfect size for a manuscript. So there it is, all the raw material a writer needs for a lifetime of work."--Annie Proulx

"Since my Milton teacher sent me to the OED at the start of my college career, that vast and virtuous monument has been an almost daily companion. It's far the most important of my reference aids; and of all things for a dictionary, it's proved likewise a steady source of surprise and delight."--Reynolds Price

Use this dictionary to explore individual words or phrases used for a particular concept or meaning over time. Includes the modern spelling of a word and when that word first entered the English language.

Good morning. I'm Rachel Martin. And it's right about this time in the day the MORNING EDITION staff gets a little bit hangry. And the Oxford English Dictionary now feels our pain. Hangry is one of the newest entries in the dictionary. The adjective is defined as, quote, "bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger." The only thing worse than being hangry - being mansplained, which has also made the dictionary, defined as when a man explains, quote, "needlessly overbearingly or condescendingly." It's MORNING EDITION.

In 1879 an agreement was reached with Oxford University Press to begin work on a revolutionary New English Dictionary. The plan was to create a vast and comprehensive collection of English words, those from the Early Middle English period (1150) onwards, a lexicon of the language more complete than any English dictionary-maker had ever attempted. The dictionary would include lost and outmoded words as well as the newest fashionable or technical terms; it would trace the history (or etymology) of every word, showing the earliest known usage of each word, and would map how the word had shifted in meaning over time; and it would search through a whole range of texts, taking its quotations from sources previously thought to be insignificant such as song lyrics or slang. Fifty years later the first version of the dictionary - 178 miles of type - was published.

The dictionary's editor, James Murray, appealed to readers around the English speaking world to get involved. Eventually hundreds of volunteers were working as word detectives, scouring historical and contemporary texts to collect evidence for as many words as possible. They rummaged through literature (popular and classic), newspapers, specialist scientific or technological journals, song sheets, theatre scripts, recipe books, wills, and political documents, collecting a myriad of words and meanings. The readers sent millions of quotations to Murray, which were then checked, sorted and filed by his team of editors. The archive box shown here contains quotations for words beginning with the letter M in the range miler to mischief.

Unlike typical language dictionaries, which only define words in terms of their current uses and meanings, the OED is a historical dictionary. Each entry lists a word's changing meanings (including those now obsolete), and illustrates those changes with quotations from literary texts and other historical records. 59ce067264


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