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Describe It In 60,000 Words Or Less

(chrisjohnbeckett@Flickr)

The most complete and accurate dictionary of the English language is the Oxford English Dictionary. It gives not only the meaning and pronunciation, but the history of over half a million words, past and present. It was 1857 when plans for the dictionary began what they figured would end up as four-volumes and 64-hundred pages. They estimated it would take 10 years to finish but it took over 25 years before the first edition was published.

Most dictionaries give just present-day meanings, but the Oxford English Dictionary gives a detailed history for every word and phrase. You’ll find long cross-references and etymologies. One word in our language needed over 60,000 words to describe covering 430 uses. The word? Set.

The first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published on this date, February 1, 1884, but it wasn’t until 1928 when the full dictionary was complete. The finished work – 400,000 words and phrases in 10 volumes.

And as soon as it was complete – they had to start updating it. And periodically they issue updates with new entries and revisions.

Then along came the computer age. It took five years to create an electronic version of the dictionary. 120 people working full-time to type all the entries and 50 proofreaders to check the work. It’s updated quarterly with over 1,000 new entries and revisions.

If you want the printed version – clear some shelf space. It’s 20 volumes weighing over 137 pounds. It would take one person 120 years to type all 59 million words of the Old Oxford Dictionary.

 

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