The largest and most comprehensive English Dictionary.

  • 1857 : Decision to create A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles.
  • 1879 : Work actually begins on the A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles.
  • 1928 : A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, First Edition. 400,000 entries in ten volumes.
  • 1933 : A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles renamed to Oxford English Dictionary. Reprinted in twelve volumes. One volume supplement.
  • 1972 : First (A-G) of four new OED supplements .
  • 1976 : Second (H-N) of four new OED supplements.
  • 1976 : Third (O-SCZ) of four new OED supplements.
  • 1986 : Fourth (SD-Z) of four new OED supplements.
  • 1989 : Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition. Combines all new supplements (but not the 1933) and adds 5000 new words. 22,000 pages in 20 volumes.
  • 2010 2037 : Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition . Completely re-done, will be all things to all people. No, really.

The Most Badass Reference Work In the World, the printed Oxford English Dictionary is twenty ponderous volumes long. You can buy it in leather. You can get a two-volume compact edition that comes with its own magnifying glass, because they just shrank the plates for the twenty-volume edition down four to a page!

It's No Ordinary Dictionary. Each entry shows you the word's history and each major definition and minor definition since its first appearance in written word. These tens of thousands of minor definitions each list the first known occurrence of the word, the progression of its use through the centuries, and if the definition is archaic--that is, no longer in use--the last known occurrence of the word in printed text. You get all that plus references to other obscure related words and all the content you'd expect in less weighty dictionaries, too.

Let's say you had to write a three-page paper on a word, like "spell". The OED dedicates a page and a half to this one word's meanings, from the archaic "spelling" of an sentence--meaning to say each word, one after the other--to the conventional spelling of a word, without leaving off the still-used less-recent additions like to cast a spell on someone. The OED shows that spell in all its forms has meant spoken power, and there's your thesis.

Day-to-day, its users find new words and phrases that have "gone glimmering"--that have been lost.

There's a horde of history behind the OED. A bestselling book, the Professor and the Madman, documents the integral contributions of a man in an insane asylum who helped find many of the examples needed for the creation of the original OED.

The Oxford English Dictionary or the OED. It can be found online now at It is probably the largest example of a Open Source collaboratively written book. In the late 1800's James Murray issued an 'Appeal to the English-Speaking and English-Reading Public of Great Britain, America and the British Colonies’. Thousands of volunteers contributed to it and it took 70 years to complete.

And guess what. They are doing all over again. In 1999 John Simpson reissued the appeal. Check out to learn more about becoming an OED contributer.

Maybe you can be like Dr. William Minor who submitted thousands of quotations while he was locked up in England's harshest asylum for the criminally insane.

It started out small and modest: in February 1884, a slim paperback book hit the shops, bearing the title The New English Dictionary on Historical Principles and costing a hefty twelve shillings and six pence. Within, it contained all the words in the English language between A and Ant.

This book was the product of five years' work by James Murray and his numerous contributors and the first volume in one of the most ambitious academical exercise ever undertaken, The OED.

The intention was to record every word used in the English language since 1150 and trace it back through all its changing meanings and different spellings through the ages. It was decided that there should be at least one citation for each century of its existence - oh, and at least one for each meaning as well. This was a momentous task to say the least. To achieve these aims, every major piece of English literature from the last seven and a half centuries would have to be read through and carefully indexed.

The man chosen to lead the project, James Murray, initially had wildly optimistic ideas about the daunting task he had reluctantly agreed to do. He thought the whole project would cover about 6400 pages and take no more than eleven years to finish!

Five years down the road, when Murray and his crew had only just reached the word "ant", they realised it was time to reconsider the schedule. As we now know, the project actually took over four decades and easily fills 15 000 densely printed pages.

Dr William Minor mentioned above was by no means the only contributor Murray had, although he is probably the most famous. Hundreds of volunteers (among them the eccentric James Platt, who was said to master a hundred languages) helped with the research, sending in definitions and citations from all over the world. Even Murray's eleven children were, almost from the moment they had learned the alphabet, roped into the endless business of helping to sift through and alphabetize their father's huge hoard of paper slips, on which were recorded seven centuries' worth of philological history.

Murray worked on his dictionary for 36 years, from his appointment to editorship in 1879 to his death in 1915. He was working on the letter U when he died, but his assistants took over the work and kept going for another thirteen years until the final volume, Wise to Wyzen, was published in 1928. (Volume 12, XYZ, had appeared earlier, for unclear reasons.)
B. Bryson: Mother Tongue (London, 1999)

Thanks for Cletus the Foetus for some proofreading.

The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition was edited by J.A. Simpson and E.S. Weiner. Published in Oxford by Claredon Press in 1989 as a 20-volume set.

BIP lists the set at a whopping $6000! For an annual fee, this dictionary is available online.

A typical question that would lead to this book being used is “I wonder where English ever got a word like “vulgar”? When was it first used in print? Has it changed its meaning over the years?”

As a print source it is 20 volumes, plus a 3 volume “Additions to the Second Edition, 1993 and 1997.
Online the complete 2nd edition, the 3 Additions, and new drafts for the proposed 2010 3rd edition are updated quarterly.

The purpose of this resource is to show the history of words, giving differences in meaning, spelling, pronunciation, and usage at different times in history.

Usually referred to as O.E.D. It includes over 600,000 word forms. Has over 2,500,000 quotations that are arranged chronologically, with the oldest occurrence first, within each entry. Each meaning includes a quotation from literature.

In volume 20, the bibliography enables the user to trace sources of quotations from the most frequently quoted of the 5,000 authors.

Intended audience is scholars and others who love the English language.

This dictionary pinpoints the date of the first appearance of each word in print.

Pronunciation is International Phonetic Alphabet. It is difficult for a layman,

LCSH: English Languages–Dictionaries

Thanks to cbustapeck I know know that has the list price as $3000 and their price as $895, new. The Library teacher at my college will be informed.

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