1 February 1884 was the day the world's foremost authority on the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary, was published for the first time. 

Starting with A to Ant, the dictionary was published in unbound volumes with the title New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by The Philological Society. Work began as far back as 1857 on the first edition, with the second edition not arriving until 1989, which reached a staggering 21,728 pages in 20 volumes. 

A third edition has been underway since 2000 with new words being added all the time. Just last week, over 1,000 new words were added, with mansplain and hangry being two of the more unusual entries.

The work began amongst a small group of intellectuals of the Philological Society in London and was unrelated to Oxford. It was not until the Oxford University Press agreed to publish the work in 1879 that it took on its present name. The society's original intention for the dictionary was to right the shortcomings of contemporary dictionaries, such as:


  • Incomplete coverage of obsolete words
  • Inconsistent coverage of families of related words
  • Incorrect dates for earliest use of words
  • History of obsolete senses of words often omitted
  • Inadequate distinction among synonyms
  • Insufficient use of good illustrative quotations
  • Space wasted on inappropriate or redundant content.

According to the Oxford University Press, to type out all 59 million words would take 120 years and a further 60 years to proofread.

To learn more about language, its origins and evolution, read the latest edition of Overseas here.



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