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From Hwæt to Whattup: A Bibliography of the History of English (July 2014): The New English Dictionary

by Edwin Battistella

The New English Dictionary

Interest in philology was also behind A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, edited by James A. H. Murray et al., known today as the Oxford English Dictionary.  The project was initiated by the Philological Society of London’s call for a new dictionary that would reexamine the language from its earliest days and replace Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1775).  When the first edition was completed in 1928, the New English Dictionary (NED) documented more than 400,000 words with literary historical citations collected from readers around the English-speaking world.  In 1933, a single-volume supplement appeared, and the NED was reissued as the now-venerable Oxford English Dictionary.  The dictionary staff continues to revise and update entries, and a third edition, known as OED3, is in progress, though it remains to be seen if it will appear in print.  With the OED3 revisions, the dictionary has expanded the resources used in definitions and citations to include more vernacular materials, continuing its tradition of description as opposed to prescription and moving away from strictly literary texts.

The story of the OED is told in many books, most recently by Simon Winchester in The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary.  Sarah Ogilvie’s Words of the World: A Global History of the Oxford English Dictionary complements Winchester’s popular treatment with analysis of the OED archives, where Ogilvie studied the openness of various editors to loan words.  Some of the pre-history of the OED is described in Hans Aarsleff’s The Study of Language in England, 1780-1860.

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