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Thursday, 31 January 2013
Home arrow Role of quotations arrow Period coverage
Period coverage
As the graphs elsewhere on this site make clear, OED's eventual coverage of periods, as represented by numbers of quotations per decade, varied enormously. One of the aims of Examining the OED is to investigate whether this variation reflects the methodology of the lexicographers or the different rates of lexical productivity at different points in the history of the English language. This section reviews some of the information available in printed or manuscript documentation (the latter held by Oxford University Press and the Bodleian Library) about the lexicographers' early plans and programmes for reading sources and collecting suitable quotations, and discusses some of the implications of (and for) subsequent research.

First, a caveat: it is probably wrong to infer too much from the archival and early printed evidence. The concerns stated in the three editions of Murray's Appeal (1879-80; see account in Early progress) and in Murray's various reports to the Philological Society, and the relative proportions of one period to another in the lists of books to be read (whether issued with the Appeal or preserved in the archives), do not necessarily map consistently on to the quotation material finally assembled and then selected from for printing in the Dictionary - with the significant exception that the shortage of eighteenth-century quotation material which Murray complains about in 1879 is matched by the disproportionately low number of quotations from 1700-1799 in the OED as eventually published; see our page on the 18th century.

The following pages give a summary of the relevant material period by period (for more detailed information see Brewer 2000).

Note: the quotation figures for many of the works and authors mentioned here were compiled from searches made in 1999-2000 of the second edition of the OED on CD-ROM. We are in the process of checking this data so as to bring it into line with our current search methods. Hence we usually supply round numbers rather than exact figures.

Medieval
Early Modern
18th century
19th century
20th century


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