Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America
Number 25, 2004
pp. 1-43 | 10.1353/dic.2004.0001
The "Electronification" of the Oxford English Dictionary1 Charlotte Brewer "n the last twenty-odd years enormous changes have taken .place in the editorial policy of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)2, changes of a more profound extent and nature than ever before in its one hundred and fifty-odd year history. They have been motivated by two often coinciding factors: advances in technology that i: 1I have not been able to find the word electronification in a dictionary. I use it to mean 'the computerization [of data], so as to render it searchable and analyzable by electronic means'. This article, though mostly adulatory, is in some respects critical of the revision of OED currently underway (at the time of writing , 2003, the revised text online has covered the alphabet range M-Nipissing) . Therefore I am particularly grateful to Oxford lexicographers John Simpson (editor of the ongoing new edition) , Peter Gilliver, and Judy Pearsall, as well as to the long-time friend of OED, E. G. Stanley, for their disinterested benevolence in reading and commenting on a draft; none of them necessarily agrees with any of the views expressed here. I am also most grateful to Oxford University Press and its archivist Martin Maw for generously allowing me access to the OED archives. 2In keeping with recent convention, the abbreviation "OEDl" designates the dictionary published completely in 1928, whether in fascicles or bound volumes , as well as the supplement published in 1933. "SOED" indicates the four volume supplement edited by the late Robert Burchfield (1972-1986). "OED2" refers to the integrated "Second Edition" managed by John S. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner in 1989, whereas "OED3" refers to the edition currently underway and gradually available on-line. The abbreviation "OED," then, refers to the historical project, at whatever time and in whatever form. Dictionaries:Journal oftheDictionary Society ofNorth America 25 (2004) Charlotte Brewer have transformed the possibilities of arranging large quantities of data, and a belated but thorough-going response by OED lexicographers to recent developments in lexicographical theory and practice. Introduction: The OED up to 1989 The history of the OED has been complex, even tangled, since its inception, but up to the last few years has been characterized by a monumental slowness and institutional inertia. As is well known, the dictionary was first adumbrated in a couple of famous papers delivered by Dean Trench to the Philological Society in London in November 1857. It was then more fully conceptualized by a number of Society members, chiefly Herbert Coleridge (grandson of the poet), in a paper of 1859, but it subsequently languished for twenty years or so, despite occasional periods or pockets of productivity, under the inspirational but over-stretched and unreliable F. J. Furnivall.3 Momentum was attained under J. A. H. Murray (editor from 1879 to his death in 1915), leading to publication of its first fascicle (a-ant) in 1884. More fascicles were fairly steadily pumped out over the next forty-four years, when the last appeared in 1928 (wise-wyzen, which ended the run ofW fascicles, x-zyxt having come out in 1921). Even before this, Oxford University Press (OUP) had been preparing a supplement, heavily weighted towards the letters of the front end of the alphabet, for which the dictionary was already out-ofdate — or as the Secretary of the Press, R. W. Chapman, put it, "left with a ragged edge."4 Soliciting the Vice-Chancellor's advice on planche 'Historical Introduction' first printed in the 1933 edition of the OED (in part reproduced at ) describes how "as the result of a suggestion made by F.J. Furnivall to Dean Trench in May ," the Council of the Philological Society appointed Herbert Coleridge, Furnivall, and Trench "as a committee to collect unregistered words in English." Their report took the form of Trench's two papers , which were subsequently published as a single document by the Philological Society; the second edition (Trench [I860]) can be read in the archive section of OED Online at . See also [Philological Society] (1859). 4Letter to Vice-Chancellor, 24 May 1933 (Oxford University Press archives, PP/1933/56. This and the other quotations from the press archives are reprinted by...