Online sources

The content below was originally written in 2007 and is as yet unrevised, though the links have been checked and updated (July 2019).

OED3’s new quotations do not come just from its own reading programmes.1 The lexicographers make extensive use of electronic resources giving access to both historical and contemporary English usage, and began collecting quotations from such sources as early as 1984.2 These include

  • Literature Online (Chadwyck-Healey; subscription only), ‘a fully searchable library of more than 350,000 works of English and American poetry, drama and prose, 180 full-text literature journals, and other key criticism and reference resources’.3 This is therefore almost entirely made up of literary texts
  • JSTOR (subscription), at Includes many periodicals from the main disciplines in the arts and sciences, several dating to the 19th century and earlier. The most notable of these is the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, from which (evidently in print form) the first edition of OED quoted, often for scientific terms, c. 9,300 times. OED3 has added significantly more quotations (to date, July 2006, over 3,200, making a total of c. 12,500 in all)
  • The two free-access Making of America databases hosted by the Universities of Michigan and Cornell, comprising ‘a digital library of primary sources [both books and journals] in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction’. See (Michigan); (Cornell)
  • The Times Digital Archive (subscription): gives searchable access to the full text (and scanned pages) of the newspaper from 1785. See
  • Accessible Archives (subscription), does the same for 18th- and 19th-century American periodicals (including newspapers): see
  • Early English Books Online and Eighteenth Century Collections Online (subscription). The last is almost certainly beginning to exert a strong influence on OED documentation, by making it far easier to find 18th-century quotations for words previously under-represented for this period in the OED.
  • the British National Corpus (subscription), ‘a 100 million word collection of samples of written and spoken language from a wide range of sources, designed to represent a wide cross-section of current British English, both spoken and written’. To date (July 2006) this is the source of 2,569 quotations (though many, perhaps most? from printed sources). See
  • LexisNexis (subscription), a resource providing ‘access to 5 billion searchable documents from more than 32,000 legal, news and business sources’: quoted to date (July 2006) 9,980 times, mainly from contemporary English language newspapers round the world such as the Guardian, Washington Post, Canberra Herald, etc. See
  •, ‘the single largest historical newspaper database online, containing more newspaper pages from 1759 to present than any other service’ (quoted from front page at (as of July 2006). This huge archive contains mainly North American newspapers from the mid-19th century and earlier.

For further information and discussion, see Simpson 1999, Simpson and others 2004b.

Last updated on 8 October 2019


  1. See OED3 quotation sources and OED Online’s own page at (accessed July 2019).
  2. In 1987, R. W. Burchfield, then editor of the OED Supplement, recorded, ‘For the last three years we have…had unrestricted access to three immense computerised data bases – LEXIS/NEXIS, DIALOG, and the Oxford University’s computerised literary concordances and other products of the university’s optical character reading device, the Kurzweil Data Entry Machine (KDEM)’ (Burchfield 1987: 19).
  3. Quoted from the front page of LION (as of 28 June 2006); the database has since added substantial quantities of critical and other prose works.