OED3 quotation collection

This section is scheduled to be updated over 2020/21. The pages listed below contain further information and discussion dating from our original website and published 2007-11. See also Brewer 2007b, Treasure House of the Language, chapter 8.

Screenshot from Shakespeare’s World [accessed 18 Oct 2019]

Meanwhile, here is an extract from a blogpost (April 5 2017) for the crowd-sourced project ‘Shakespeare’s World’ written by Philip Durkin, Deputy Chief Editor of OED. This illuminatingly reveals the process by which the new quotations now being turned up by industrious and devoted volunteer readers get into the Dictionary.

‘Shakespeare’s World’ organizes volunteers to transcribe thousands of pages from manuscripts of the Early Modern English period. Durkin comments on a volunteer’s discovery of ‘a splendid antedating of “white lie”, which the lexicographers themselves had pushed back to 1741 but had now been identified nearly two centuries earlier, in a letter from 1567: ‘Albeit I do assure you he is vnsusspected of / any vntruithe or oder notable cryme (excepte a white lye)’. The volunteer’s username is ‘mutabilitie’.

An obvious question is why we haven’t added this to the OED the day that @mutabilitie spotted it. In this instance, we’ll need to do a bit more work on this manuscript letter, to be sure of how we want to cite it, and especially date it, in the OED – and we very much hope that the experts at the Folger [i.e. the Folger Library in Washington D.C., one of the partners in the project] will be able to cast an eye over that as well.

In other cases, the work involved for the OED will be more extensive, and take longer. The task of revising an OED entry is complex, and typically involves a number of different specialists – for instance, researchers checking numerous data collections for examples of the word (especially ones that are earlier or later, or point to different meanings or constructions); expert definers, assessing how the meaning is described; specialists compiling data on the typical spellings a word has shown through its history; etymologists, tracing how the word has been formed, where it has come from, and how it has been influenced by other languages; bibliographers, scrutinizing how examples are cited and dated and ensuring that the cited text is accurate – and this is before we take account of areas that typically impinge less on the Shakespeare’s World data, such as pronunciations, or definitions of scientific vocabulary. Coordinating all of this work involves an intricate sequence of inter-connected tasks, and inevitably takes time – particularly when your wordlist runs to over a quarter of a million words. That’s why some of the Shakespeare’s World material that will ultimately have a big impact on OED entries will get an enthusiastic “thank you” from OED editors but may not show up in the published dictionary text until it can be incorporated as part of a full revision of the dictionary entry where it belongs. This is probably going to prove the case with the discoveries about taffety tarts and farts of Portugal in two earlier posts: the entries for both taffeta and fart are due for full revision for the OED at some point in the not too far distant future, which will enable us to take full account of how this new information helps transform our understanding of the history of these words.

by Philip Durkin (@PhilipDurkin), Deputy Chief Editor, Oxford English Dictionary

Last updated on 6 October 2020