The Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

ISBN : 9780199283620

Peter Gilliver
656 Pages
171 x 246 mm
Pub date
Aug 2016


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  • The first detailed history of the origins, making, and evolution of the Oxford English Dictionary
  • Draws on a wealth of archival material, some previously unexplored
  • Includes accounts of the lives of the main participants and stories behind the inclusion of individual words

This book tells the history of the Oxford English Dictionary from its beginnings in the middle of the nineteenth century to the present. The author, uniquely among historians of the OED, is also a practising lexicographer with nearly thirty years' experience of working on the Dictionary He has drawn on a wide range of sources—including previously unexamined archival material and eyewitness testimony—to create a detailed history of the project. The book explores the cultural background from which the idea of a comprehensive historical dictionary of English emerged, the lengthy struggles to bring this concept to fruition, and the development of the book from the appearance of the first printed fascicle in 1884 to the launching of the Dictionary as an online database in 2000 and beyond. It also examines the evolution of the lexicographers' working methods, and provides much information about the people—many of them remarkable individuals—who have contributed to the project over the last century and a half.



List of illustrations
List of capsules
1: Beginnings
2: Furnivall's Dictionary: 1861-75
Interlude. The work of Furnivall's sub-editors
3: Manoeuvres: 1876-9
4: The road to Ant: 1879-84
5: The Dictionary divides: 1884-7
6: Storm and stress: 1888-97
Interlude. Method: From quotation slip to published entry
7: And then there were four: 1987-1915
8: After twilight: 1915-23
9: Limping over the finishing line: 1923-33
10: Interregnum: 1933-57
11: Learning to swim (again): 1957-72
12: Second Supplement to Second Edition: 1972-89
13: Towards OED3: 1989-
Guide to abbreviations

About the author: 

Peter Gilliver, Associate Editor, Oxford English Dictionary

Peter Gilliver has been an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary since 1987, and is now one of the Dictionary's most experienced lexicographers; he has also contributed to several other dictionaries published by OUP. In addition to his lexicographical work, he has been writing and speaking about the history of the OED for over fifteen years.

"Skilfully telling the story of a national treasure ... Gilliver provides a peerless progress report. It is to his credit that for all the inescapable longueurs of dictionary production, this account has something of the ripping yarn... Like its equivalent dictionaries across the world, the OED is a national treasure. That it has a fascinating story is to be expected. That it is told by so skilled a narrator as Peter Gilliver is a bonus: both for the great work, and for those who read this book." - Jonathon Green, Times Literary Supplement

"Painstaking and scholarly account... a story which leaves you mentally breathless by the time you arrive at the end... if you're genuinely interested in the English language, and enjoy your linguistic history leavened with quirky details and a touch of dry humour, it's a book which any true language-lover should have on their shelf." - Moira, Vulpes Libris

"In conclusion: The book gives an absorbing and vivid account and a detailed and exhaustive presentation of the meticulously researched facts dealing with the development of the OED and its related dictionaries. At the same time it is a worthy and meritorious tribute to the hundreds of people, who collaborated in establishing one of the great historical dictionaries." - J.C.M.D. du Plessis, Lexikos

"Fascinating." - The Story Reading Ape

"The most wonderful book has just come out. I hate to use the word 'definitive' about any book, but this one justifies it." - David Crystal, DCBlog

"A dream book for logophiles." - Europaeum Bulletin

"This is a riveting read." - Pat Ashworth, Church Times

"Will repay anyone with a serious interest in the story behind one of Britain's greatest treasures." - Michael Quinion, World Wide Words

"The information in this volume, much of it gleaned through careful analysis of written correspondence and annotations on the primary archival material, makes this history definitive." - W. Miller, Choice

"Gilliver's prose is a pleasure to read and his research indefatigable." - Christopher Howse, The Spectator

"Long, careful, authoritatively written, handsomely produced and fascinatingly detailed history" - Matthew Engel, Financial Times

"The material is marshalled with erudition and elegance" - Nicholas Mander, Daily Telegraph

"It's all here for the fossicking" - Karen Shook, Times Higher Education

"Remarkable book ... authoritative ... a thoroughly engaging book for logophiles or those interested in this most enduring of achievements ... Gilliver's painstaking work revivifies many of the unsung heroes of the project" - John Garth, Oxford Today

"There is much to enjoy in this scholary [sic!] work and the scholarship is lightened by the illustrations, and by the examples of how individual words have been treated. It is not a work to read at a sitting and, indeed, many will probably prefer to treat it as a reference work, to be dipped into to resolve some issue of lexicography, but it is easy to dip into and then to be captured by a train of events in the history of the fascinating Oxford English Dictionary... The author [...] was able to maintain a ready sense of humour for the enterprise, making the history a work that one can dive into and discover new insights on almost every page, leavened with that humour... A work of real scholarship." - Tom Wilson, Information Review

"Meticulously researched ... groundbreaking ... While it cannot be the last word, it is hard to believe that Gilliver's excellent and careful account of the Dictionary's compilation will ever be superseded" - Elizabeth Knowles, Library & Information History

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