Which edition contains what?

OED editions and versions: which is which?

There are at least seven separate stages of the Dictionary (and arguably one might distinguish more). It is the last and current stage, OED Online, whose varying content is particularly difficult for users to get to grips with. Although it is by far the best version of OED to consult if you are looking for the most up-to-date scholarship, it contains a potentially misleading combination of old and new material – some of which dates from over a hundred years ago, and some of which has been composed very recently indeed. This means that users need to have a quite sophisticated grasp of the history and development of the OED in order to make the best use of its current contents. OED Online publishes a list of Dictionary milestones on its website at http://www.oed.com/public/milestones/dictionary-milestones.

  1. 1884-1928: OED1
  2. 1933: re-issue of OED1 with first Supplement
  3. 1972-86: Burchfield’s (second) Supplement
  4. 1989: OED2
  5. 1993, 1997: Additions
  6. CD Roms
  7. 2000-: OED Online and OED3
1. OED1

The OED was first published as the New English Dictionary in separate instalments (fascicles) between 1884 and 1928, under the chief editorship of James Murray. The main characteristics of this edition are outlined in our separate page on OED1; for more information see pages in OED1 intellectual climate, OED1 compilation and OED1 completion, all in EOED’s Historical background section, along with much of the content of the Quotations section.

2. 1933 re-issue, with first Supplement

The first edition was re-issued in 1933, together with a ‘scratch’ Supplement compiled by the two surviving co-editors of OED1, W. A. Craigie and C. T. Onions (on which see our separate page at First Supplement), in a 13-volume edition entitled:

‘The Oxford English Dictionary, being a corrected re-issue with an Introduction, Supplement, and Bibliography of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, founded mainly on the materials collected by The Philological Society, and edited by James A. H. Murray, Henry Bradley, W. A. Craigie, C. T. Onions, Oxford, at the Clarendon Press, 1933.

In 1971 this edition was issued in a two-volume photographically reduced format.

1933 reissue of OED1 with supplementary volume. Source: OED archives
3. 1972-86 Supplement

The Supplement to the OED, edited by R. W. Burchfield, was published in 4 volumes between 1972 and 1986. Strictly speaking this was the second 20th-century supplement, since that of Craigie and Onions was the first. Burchfield’s volumes incorporate most of Craigie and Onions’ work and provide additional documentation of 20th-century words. Almost all the evidence is for words or meanings recorded after 1880: only in a tiny proportion of instances did Burchfield make any changes or additions to material already printed in OED1. The Supplement was also issued in a one-volume photographically reduced format.

See our page Second Supplement (1972-86) for more information. A full account of Burchfield’s work can be found in Brewer 2007b, chapters 6-7, and it is also discussed in our section on Literary sources.

4. OED2

The SECOND EDITION of the OED, compiled by John Simpson and Edmund Weiner, was published in 20 volumes in 1989 (and also in a three-volume photographically reduced format in 1991). This merged the original OED (largely unchanged) with the 1972-86 Supplement, adding just 5,000 new words and senses (less than 1% of the original total; see further OED2 in our Quotations section, due to be published over 2019). This means that despite its relatively recent publication date, many of the entries in OED2 reproduce definitions and explanatory matter that are significantly – in some cases absurdly – out of date. Nevertheless, OED2 is the only version of OED which is currently in print, although it has now, in many respects, been superseded by the online version of the Dictionary available at www.oed.com, OED Online.

For a time (March 2000 to December 2010) an electronic version of OED2, with sophisticated search tools identical to those then available for OED3, was also available at www.oed.com. Regrettably, this version has now been withdrawn.

For more information see our separate page on OED2.

Source: OED archives
5. Additions

In 1993 and 1997 three volumes of Additions to the Dictionary were published after OED2’s appearance in 1989, consisting of further listings and new words (see details on OED editions section in our Bibliography). These are still in print.

6. CD-Roms

CD Roms of OED2 were produced from 1992 onwards, in successively updated electronic formats. As editorial revisions of OED2 appeared – first in the Additions volumes (see above) and then online (see next page) – this material was incorporated into new versions of the CD Rom. Full updating seems to have ceased for the time being, however; currently (July 2019), Version 4.0 of the Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition) on CD-ROM ‘includes the Oxford English Dictionary Additions Series (Volumes 1-3), published in 1993 and 1997, and now almost 7,000 new words and meanings from the OED‘s ongoing research programme.’ The search tools available on the CD Rom are less sophisticated than those online, with which one can search OED3, so detailed analysis of this partially updated form of OED2 is not possible (and one cannot use the CD Rom in any form of analysis which systematically compares OED2 with OED3, since the search interfaces are different).
Information on the seventh stage of the Dictionary can be seen on the next pages in our section on OED Online.

Last updated on 21 October 2019