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OED-Dictionary Review


The English language as subject to study and the attempts to create a volume which gathered all words and expressions, was mainly a job for eccentric scholars, who didn’t received any help or support from the government. Besides, the editors were always in controversy with their fellows, who made their work even harder. To begin with, it might be relevant to mark the different periods according to relevant happenings: The inkhorn controversy (C16th-C17th), the publication of Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall (1604), Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary in (1755) and finally the new era that arises with The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) (1857). These volumes are relevant because they add new characteristics or new words which didn’t appear on the previous works.

Before 1604, there are some attempts of creating dictionaries, or at least a kind of. The first bilingual dictionaries and glossaries appeared in the 15th c: William Caston’s A French-English glossary (1480), Sir Thomas Elyot’s The Dictionary (Bibliotheca Eliotae) (1538) and Thomas Thomas’ Dictionarium Linguae Latinae et Anglicae (1588).
In the 16th century began the inkhorn controversy, when Latin was the main language in the field of science in England. Before this controversy, the main language in Britain for the learning field was French or Latin, leaving English in a second place and giving importance to these two foreign languages. They were so much used, that some people (mainly people who had an education) started to avoid some words in English and using their similar meanings in Latin or French instead. The controversy was based on the discussion about the inclusion of some foreign words into the English vocabulary, assuming them as new words for the English lexicon. Opinion was divided into two groups: the inkhornists, who thought that new words would only enrich the English language, and the purists, who wanted to maintain the English language as such in a pure state, without foreign words of any kind.

After this controversy, the scholars realized that there was a need for a dictionary in English for compiling all the words and its usage. Mulcaster (1582) expresses this necessity:
“If som one well learned and as laborious a man, wold gather all the words which we use in our English tung… into one dictionarie, and besides the right writing… wold open unto us therein both their naturall force and their proper use.”

Finally, Robert Cawdry decides to carry out the difficult enterprise of gathering English words on the first monolingual dictionary of English: A Table Alphabeticall (1604). The aim of this dictionary was mainly to compile hard words so everyone could understand them. This first dictionary was very simple; it had around 3000 entries in 120 pages and brief definitions with no quotations and etymology of any kind.

In 1755, after 9 years of hard work, Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary is finally published. This dictionary has a lot of innovations. Firstly, it compiles such a high number of entries and definitions as never shown, 42,000 entries and over 140,000 definitions. It also includes details about spelling, pronunciation, etymology, and illustrative quotations from highly known characters, as could be a fragment from any Shakespearean work. It is also relevant the History and Grammar of English language which was also included. All these elements as a whole gave to this work the possibility of becoming a masterpiece. The only problem of such a good an elaborate work was that Samuel Johnson gives idiosyncratic and often subjective definitions, which might not have just the meaning that he gave to them.

Later on appeared some spelling and pronouncing dictionaries, but the real revolution took place with the appearance of a new work: The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), firstly known as The new English Dictionary (NED). The OED is the actual most important dictionary on English language, and is daily revised and updated thanks to new technologies. It had a slowly and long process of creation which started in 1884 and goes on till nowadays.

The most important achievement of this last and complete dictionary was mainly the assumption that language change is inevitable, so it keep updating everyday of the new findings on the development and variation towards English language and the attitudes to it.
• Barber, Charles. 2000. The English language. [Chapter 9:pp.199-207]
• Crystal, David. 1995. The stories of English. [Interlude 11:pp.280-284; Chapter 15:pp.442-443]

The Oxford English Dictionary NOW

In 1992 the Oxford English Dictionary again made history when a CD-ROM edition of the work was published. Suddenly a massive, twenty-volume work that takes up four feet of shelf space and weighs 150 pounds is reduced to a slim, shiny disk that takes up virtually no space and weighs just a few ounces.

The Oxford English Dictionary on CD-ROM has been a great success. The electronic format has revolutionized the way people use the Dictionary to search and retrieve information. Complex investigations into word origins or quotations that would have been impossible to conduct using the print edition now take only a few seconds. Because the electronic format makes the Oxford English Dictionary so easy to use, its audience now embraces all kinds of interested readers beyond the confines of the scholarly community.

Using OED:

The OED alows you to findthe word or phrase you need in the full text of the dictionary, or in selected areas sch as quotations or etymolgies.

Specific Search & Phrase Search
To search for references to the word ‘ghost’ in the titles of quoted works, enter ‘ghost’ into the search box, select ‘quotation work’ from the pull-down list, and click Start Search.

This produces the following results list from the Second Edition, which includes links to the entries containing the quotations, as well as direct links into the body of the quotations themselves, surrounded by a little context to show where the word ‘ghost’ has been found.


Early English Books Online
[accessed on 28 October 2010].

Eighteenth-Century Collections Online
[accessed on 28 October 2010].

Oxford English Dictionary
[accessed on 28 October 2010].


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