The latest update of the Oxford English Dictionary(OED) online database is now available at

In their Online June Update of June 15, 2004, Oxford Online Products of Oxford University Press reports that the new OED contains more than 2,800 new and revised words. Their announcrment continues:

The latest alphabetical range to be revised is OLM to ORATURE. Coverage is broad including everything from OMIGOD and OMIGOSH to OMBUDSPERSON and ONE-WORLDISM. The revisions for this update revealed an earlier origin than previously known for many words, including OPEN-MINDED (1748), OOH (as in oohs and ahs – 1602), and OPPORTUNISTICALLY (1915). (See for full update details.)

Do you wear JOHN LENNONs? Have you tried PILATES or KITESURFING? Do you spend too much time in TV LAND? Do you have any CYBERPETS? These are just some of the many new words and phrases which have been added to OED Online as part of the latest update. You can explore the full list of out-of-sequence new entries at


The OED Online Help pages ( are now fully searchable and allow users quick access to the in-depth help resources available on the site. The Help section is also now available to non-subscribers and has been redesigned with a frames-free format. Users accessing the general site search option at now have the option to limit their search to the Help text by using a drop-down menu.

A new presentation of OED usage statistics in COUNTER-compliant format will soon be available. This is in addition to the existing detailed format and can be accessed by a separate link to a new display summarizing searches and sessions. All statistics are available from the Customer Service pages of OED Online at

We are currently working on some new functionality that will offer a quick look-up from quotations to bibliography. Many author names will become hyperlinks, and, when selected, will launch a new window displaying the OED bibliography for that author. This means that the names and abbreviated work titles can be more easily seen in their full form in order to identify them for further research or library catalogue consultation.

The June issue of OED News is now available at and can be downloaded as a PDF file. This month’s features: read about a day in the life of the OED through contributions from a wide range of staff. As usual, the issue also includes an appeal for help with particular words: for example, can you help us track down pre-1989 examples of “plinky-plonky” or pre-1981 examples of “plank” (as in a stupid person)? If you can help, please e-mail

Those who wish to learn more about the OED will enjoy the following article, by Wendy Bousfield, subject librarian for English and Textual Studies.


Researchers who want to know an English word s various meanings or evolution consult the Oxford English Dictionary, the most comprehensive historical dictionary of the English language. In the 1980s, computer technology began to transform the method of compilation of this 118-year-old publication. In 2000 the OED became available as an online database. (Go to the SUMMIT Databases Main Menu [], and click on the letter O. )

Researchers who wish merely to survey the chronologically arranged definitions under a head word may choose to consult the second edition of the OED, located in the E.S. Bird Library Reference stacks: REF PE 1625 .O 87 1989. However, the online version has advantages. Every quarter new words are added and existing entries revised. Researchers may use wildcards in their word searches, locate the time period their word was used from a date range chart, and e-mail entries to themselves. Furthermore, computer technology has unlocked the world s largest dictionary of quotations. In the Advanced Search, researchers have the option of searching the OED s illustrative quotations by date, author, title of work, and words in the text.

In 1857 the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Richard Trench, proposed a dictionary of the English language, compiled scientifically, to the Philological Society. Trench believed that unfolding the history of words would unfold God s truth and provide moral guidance. Trench, Frederick Furnivall, and Herbert Coleridge (grandson of the poet) organized a reading program for Philological Society members and others. By the end of the 19th century, volunteers had submitted more than five million quotations, each documenting the use of a word at a different time period. In the 1870s, James Murray became editor. Between 1884 and 1928, Oxford University Press began to issue A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles: Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by the Philological Society in fascicles beginning A-Ant. In 1933 Oxford published a 12-volume first edition. Four supplements followed, each including new or omitted words.

During its early years, Murray corresponded with hundreds of contributors. Among the earliest and most assiduous was Dr. W. C. Minor. After a 20-year correspondence on points of lexicography, editor Murray discovered that Minor was a murderer and long-time resident of the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. J. R. R. Tolkien was on the staff of the OED from 1919 to 1920. Tolkien s entries may be still be found in the W s, including waggle, walnut, walrus, wampum, and warlock. When coinages from the Middle-Earth books entered the English language, Tolkein supplied definitions. Tolkien s definition of hobbit is currently found in the OED Online:

In the tales of J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973): one of an imaginary people, a small variety of the human race, that gave themselves this name (meaning hole-dweller ) but were called by others halflings, since they were half the height of normal men. Also attrib. and Comb. Hence hobbitish a., resembling a hobbit, hobbit-like; hobbitomane, a devotee of hobbits; hobbitry, the cult of hobbits; hobbits collectively, or their qualities.

In 1989 the 20-volume second edition of the OED appeared. Computer technology made it possible to incorporate definitions from the four supplements into the original publication. In 1993 a CD-ROM version of the second edition appeared. Neither represented a genuine revision.

In March 2000 the new Oxford English Dictionary Online became available. For the first time since its completion in 1928, the OED was completely revised. Every sense of every word was updated, taking into account changes in language and scholarship. Its updates provide access to at least a thousand new and revised words each quarter. The OED s North American Editorial Unit reviews all editorial text, ensuring that American nuances are represented in words already treated and examining such American texts as Thomas Jefferson s memoranda books and published letters from Beat poets Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Texts of all major world Englishes are being scrutinized. Women writers and literature of the sciences, slighted in the previous editions, are also included.

Students and researchers who become enamored of the OED Online can actively participate in the project. Today, although the OED currently has a staff of several hundred scholars, research assistants, systems engineers, specialist consultants, and others, the project is still dependent on volunteer readers. Historically arranged quotations, a vital element in the OED entries, depend on quotations supplied by readers. The OED Online provides instructions How to contribute words to the Reading Programme : Would-be contributors are invited to find printed evidence of new words from magazines, newspapers, books, song lyrics, practical manuals, including slang and dialect words. They are also invited to contribute a new word from the past words from earlier centuries that have escaped inclusion.

To most of us, however, dictionaries, even in their new online incarnation, are transparent. We use them pragmatically, not pondering their evolution or pausing to explore the value-added material its compilers have provided. My hope in writing this article is that researchers will become more knowledgeable about the capacities and history of the OED database. For example, with two and a half million quotations from literary, journalistic, and practical English-language sources, the OED is not only a dictionary of word origins, but also the world s largest dictionary of quotations. Most important, by providing a rapid overview of the OED s 144-year evolution, I hope that researchers will approach its riches in the spirit of reflection, play, and exploration.

Recommended reading:

Gilliver, Peter. J. R. R. Tolkien and the OED, Oxford English Dictionary News, Series 2, Number 21, June 2002 [online publication].

Willinsky, John. Empire of Words: The Reign of the OED (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 14-24.

Winchester, Simon, The Strange Case of the Curgeon at Crowthorne, Smithsonian, v. 29 no. 6 (Sept. 1998), p. 88-92.

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