Oxford English Dictionary

The Oxford English Dictionary, one of the most esteemed reference

The Oxford English Dictionary, one of the most esteemed reference works in history, was initially constructed via properly cited user submissions, much like Wikipedia

“During the 1870s, the Philological Society was concerned with the process of publishing a dictionary with such an immense scope. Although they had pages printed by publishers, no publication agreement was reached; both the Cambridge University Press and the Oxford University Press were approached. Finally, in 1879, after two years’ negotiating by Sweet, Furnivall, and Murray, the OUP agreed to publish the dictionary and to pay the editor, Murray, who was also the Philological Society president. The dictionary was to be published as interval fascicles, with the final form in four 6,400-page volumes. They hoped to finish the project in ten years.
Murray started the project, working in a corrugated iron outbuilding, the “”Scriptorium””, which was lined with wooden planks, book shelves, and 1,029 pigeon-holes for the quotation slips. He tracked and regathered Furnivall’s collection of quotation slips, which were found to concentrate on rare, interesting words rather than common usages: for instance, there were ten times as many quotations for abusion than for abuse. Through newspapers distributed to bookshops and libraries, he appealed for readers who would report “”as many quotations as you can for ordinary words”” and for words that were “”rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar or used in a peculiar way””. Murray had American philologist and liberal-arts-college professor Francis March manage the collection in North America; 1,000 quotation slips arrived daily to the Scriptorium, and by 1882, there were 3,500,000.
The first Dictionary fascicle was published on 1 February 1884—twenty-three years after Coleridge’s sample pages. The full title was A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by The Philological Society; the 352-page volume, words from A to Ant, cost 12s.6d (equivalent to £265 for 2010)[11] or (US$3.25) at the time. The total sales were a disappointing 4,000 copies.:169
The OUP saw it would take too long to complete the work with unrevised editorial arrangements. Accordingly, new assistants were hired and two new demands were made on Murray. The first was that he moved from Mill Hill to Oxford; he did, in 1885. Murray had his Scriptorium re-erected on his new property.
The 78 Banbury Road, Oxford, house, erstwhile residence of James Murray, Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary
Murray resisted the second demand: that if he could not meet schedule, he must hire a second, senior editor to work in parallel to him, outside his supervision, on words from elsewhere in the alphabet. Murray did not want to share the work, feeling he would accelerate his work pace with experience.[citation needed] That turned out not to be so, and Philip Gell of the OUP forced the promotion of Murray’s assistant Henry Bradley (hired by Murray in 1884), who worked independently in the British Museum in London, beginning in 1888. In 1896, Bradley moved to Oxford University.
Gell continued harassing Murray and Bradley with his business concerns—containing costs and speeding production—to the point where the project’s collapse seemed likely. Newspapers, particularly the Saturday Review, reported the harassment, and public opinion backed the editors.[4]:182–83 Gell was fired, and the University reversed his cost policies. If the editors felt that the Dictionary would have to grow larger, it would; it was an important work, and worth the time and money to properly finish. Neither Murray nor Bradley lived to see it. Murray died in 1915, having been responsible for words starting with A–D, H–K, O–P and T, nearly half the finished dictionary; Bradley died in 1923, having completed E–G, L–M, S–Sh, St and W–We. By then two additional editors had been promoted from assistant work to independent work, continuing without much trouble. William Craigie, starting in 1901, was responsible for N, Q–R, Si–Sq, U–V and Wo–Wy. Whereas previously the OUP had thought London too far from Oxford, after 1925 Craigie worked on the dictionary in Chicago, where he was a professor. The fourth editor was CT Onions, who, starting in 1914, compiled the remaining ranges, Su–Sz, Wh–Wo and X–Z.[citation needed] It was around this time that J. R. R. Tolkien was employed by the OED, researching etymologies of the Waggle to Warlock range; he parodied the principal editors as “”The Four Wise Clerks of Oxenford”” in the story Farmer Giles of Ham. Julian Barnes also was an employee; he was said[who?] to dislike the work.”

Read more