Laski, Marghanita (Who’s who)

Marghanita Laski (1915-88), volunteer reader for OED

Marghanita Laski contributed about a quarter of a million slips to the OED, making her the single most productive volunteer during the course of the Dictionary’s history – though her work went into the 20th-century Supplement rather than the first edition of the OED. A short sketch of her life and work for OED can be found in our page on Individuals readers in the Reading and readers section of the site.

Photo by I.T.N./REX/Shutterstock. Source: Jewish Lives Project

She wrote an important letter to the Times Literary Supplement, published on 13 October 1972 (p. 1226) to coincide with the appearance of the first volume of R. W. Burchfield’s Supplement. In this she described the Supplement as ‘magnificent’, but expressed the fear that OED was in danger of becoming a ‘magnificent fossil’, given that the vast bulk of the Dictionary was still, despite the Supplement, unrevised since its original publication between 1884 and 1928. She also reported her view, based on extensive historical reading, that non-literary texts were a significant, and hitherto comparatively neglected, source of vocabulary illustrating the history and development of the English language.

Both these features of OED are now being addressed by OED3The current OED team has begun systematically to revise every aspect of the first edition as well as the 20th-century Supplement, and is quoting from non-literary texts much more intensively than in the past. (See OED3 quotation sources and – for examples of OED3’s use of non-literary sources – Wills and inventories.)

Last updated on 2 October 2019