OED1 quotation collection

Today’s OED Online is still crucially dependent on the historical features of its original compilation. Over half the website’s content has yet to be revised and derives from material gathered a hundred years ago and more. Moreover, characteristics and biases from previous versions of OED continue to affect OED Online even over its updated and revised entries.

The pages in this section look at the ways in which particular quotation sources were initially identified and mined for the first edition of the OED, influencing the shape and content of the Dictionary today.

For supplementary information on this early history, with photographs of original documents (including the Philological Society’s original Proposal for a New English Dictionary, 1859, and lists of books to be read for quotations), go to OED1’s compilation under Historical Background.

One of the best – and most readable – accounts of how the first edition of OED came into being is still Caught in the Web of Words, the biography of OED1’s chief editor J. A. H. Murray by his grand-daughter K. M. Elisabeth Murray (1977). This draws on a wealth of family papers as well as OED historical documents. Those wanting exhaustive detail should turn to The Making of the OED (Gilliver 2016), based on close study of the OED archives and written by one of the Dictionary’s current long-term editors.

Last updated on