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Thursday, 31 January 2013
Home arrow Historical documents arrow OED1's compilation
OED1's compilation
The documents in this section track some of the stages involved in setting up and compiling the Philological Society's New English Dictionary (the original title of the OED). In 1857, the Society created a committee consisting of Herbert Coleridge, F. J. Furnivall, and R. C. Trench, 'to collect unregistered words in English'. During the course of this work, Trench delivered two lectures to the Society in November of that year 'On some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries' (which can be found in their subsequent published form, a single document, via OED Online).

Originally, the Society had planned simply to organize the collection and record of such 'unregistered words', and had already enlisted volunteers to this end. Persuaded by the arguments and evidence in Trench's lectures, however, they swiftly perceived the inadequacy of this scheme and decided instead to embark on a new dictionary altogether. (More detail can be found in the OED's Historical Introduction published in 1933.)

After further investigations and some initial work, the Committee published the Proposal for the Publication of a New English Dictionary by the Philological Society in 1859. In the same year, an appeal was made by George Marsh to American writers to contribute to the Dictionary, specifically by reading eighteenth-century sources (in which it was thought that British readers would be less interested; cf. our page on the eighteenth-century dip in quotation sources for the OED).

Herbert Coleridge, now established as editor, reported on progress in an 'Open Letter' to Trench in May 1860. In this he famously forecast:
I confidently expect, unless any unforeseen accident should occur to paralyze our efforts, that in about two years we shall be able to give our first number to the world. Indeed, were it not for the dilatoriness of many contributors, who promise anything and everything, but postpone performance indefinitely, neither assisting us themselves, nor enabling us to assign the books they have taken to other and better helpers, I should not hesitate to name an earlier period.
Evidence in the OED archives illuminates the accounts given in the Historical Introduction and in K. M. E. Murray 1977 (137-9; 174-7) of the initial collecting and processing procedures for the Dictionary. After Coleridge's death in 1861, these were taken over with energy and enthusiasm by Furnivall. Owing partly to Furnivall's personality, however, and partly to his commitments and engagements elsewhere, the project was not properly supervised and looked to be in danger of stalling (see Early progress).

Phil Soc's Proposal front cover
Phil Soc's Proposal p. 1
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Phil Soc's Proposal p. 35
Phil Soc's Proposal inside back cover
Phil Soc's Proposal back cover
FJF's notebook
List of books 1861 front cover
List of books p. 8
List of books p. 9
List of books p. 20
List of books p. 21
List of books p. 22
List of books p. 23
Müller's advice 1878 p. 1
Müller's advice p. 2
Directions to Readers 1879 p. 1
Directions to Readers p. 2


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