OED3 quotation sources

The content below was originally published over 2007-11 and is as yet unrevised, though the links have been checked and updated. More information on OED3’s new quotations can be found in our new pages under Outline of the language and Period coverage.

OED3’s new reading programme and expanded range of sources

Information about the aims and objectives of the OED3 lexicographers where quotations are concerned can be found in the Preface to the Third Edition (published 2000) at OED Online. Here the editor John Simpson noted that OED has in the past been criticized for its apparent literary bias. He commented, ‘A closer examination of earlier editions shows that this view has been overstated, though it is not entirely without foundation.’ By contrast:

The revised text makes use of many non-literary texts which were not available to the original Victorian readers and their immediate successors, particularly social documents such as wills, inventories, account books, diaries, journals, and letters such as the York Civic Records, Gilbert White’s Journals, and the Diaries of Robert Hooke. The inclusion of material from sources such as these allows the editors to provide a fuller picture of the vocabulary of (especially) the Early Modern period. Further reading of similar sources will doubtless result in additional significant discoveries, as will the re-examination of texts already ‘read’ for the Dictionary.

John Simpson, section on Documentation in Preface to the Third Edition, 2000 [accessed July 2019]

Elsewhere, discussing ‘The Reading Programme’, Simpson wrote as follows

The original Dictionary relied heavily on a small number of authors (notably, of course, Shakespeare) for its coverage of Early Modern English (1500-1700). Today, readers systematically survey a much broader spectrum of texts from this and other periods. A separate Historical Reading Programme has been created to serve this function….

In addition to the ‘traditional’ canon of literary works, today’s Reading Programme covers women’s writing and non-literary texts which have been published in recent times, such as wills, probate inventories, account books, diaries, and letters. The programme also covers the eighteenth century, since studies have shown that the original Oxford English Dictionary reading in this period was less extensive than it was for the previous two centuries. Also carefully perused are the books and articles by other scholars who have studied the language of individual authors of the Early Modern English period….

Taken as a whole, these Reading Programmes represent one of the most extensive surveys of the English language ever undertaken. Since the first publication of the Oxford English Dictionary, the breadth of materials available and the means of retrieving and analyzing those materials have expanded incalculably. Despite the changes, the original aim of the programme remains unaltered since the days of James A. H. Murray: to collect examples of the changing vocabulary of English from a highly diverse range of published sources spanning the entire English-speaking world, and to provide the Oxford English Dictionary‘s editors with a constantly updated and ever more detailed record of English past and present.

‘The Reading Programme’, OED Online (https://public.oed.com/history/reading-programme/, accessed July 2019)

The two following pages look respectively at OED3’s coverage of wills and inventories and OED3’s online sources, both as of 2007.

Last updated on 12 October 2019