Oxford Dictionary debuts - HISTORY
Year
1884

Oxford Dictionary debuts

On this day in 1884, the first portion, or fascicle, of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), considered the most comprehensive and accurate dictionary of the English language, is published. Today, the OED is the definitive authority on the meaning, pronunciation and history of over half a million words, past and present

Plans for the dictionary began in 1857 when members of London’s Philological Society, who believed there were no up-to-date, error-free English dictionaries available, decided to produce one that would cover all vocabulary from the Anglo-Saxon period (1150 A.D.) to the present. Conceived of as a four-volume, 6,400-page work, it was estimated the project would take 10 years to finish. In fact, it took over 40 years until the 125th and final fascicle was published in April 1928 and the full dictionary was complete–at over 400,000 words and phrases in 10 volumes–and published under the title A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles.

Unlike most English dictionaries, which only list present-day common meanings, the OED provides a detailed chronological history for every word and phrase, citing quotations from a wide range of sources, including classic literature and cookbooks. The OED is famous for its lengthy cross-references and etymologies. The verb “set” merits the OED’s longest entry, at approximately 60,000 words and detailing over 430 uses.No sooner was the OED finished than editors began updating it. A supplement, containing new entries and revisions, was published in 1933 and the original dictionary was reprinted in 12 volumes and officially renamed the Oxford English Dictionary.Between 1972 and 1986, an updated 4-volume supplement was published, with new terms from the continually evolving English language plus more words and phrases from North America, Australia, the Caribbean, New Zealand, South Africa and South Asia.In 1984, Oxford University Press embarked on a five-year, multi-million-dollar project to create an electronic version of the dictionary. The effort required 120 people just to type the pages from the print edition and 50 proofreaders to check their work. In 1992, a CD-ROM version of the dictionary was released, making it much easier to search and retrieve information.Today, the dictionary’s second edition is available online to subscribers and is updated quarterly with over 1,000 new entries and revisions. At a whopping 20 volumes weighing over 137 pounds, it would reportedly take one person 120 years to type all 59 million words in the OED.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Puccini’s La bohème premieres in Turin, Italy

By the time the first of his three career-defining operas had its premiere, Giacomo Puccini was no longer living a life of impoverished artistic struggle. His previous opera, Manon Gascaut, had made his name in the world of Italian opera, and, more important, it had earned him a ...read more

Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran

On February 1, 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran in triumph after 15 years of exile. The shah and his family had fled the country two weeks before, and jubilant Iranian revolutionaries were eager to establish a fundamentalist Islamic government under Khomeini’s ...read more

Operation Plan 34A commences

U.S. and South Vietnamese naval forces initiate Operation Plan (Oplan) 34A, which calls for raids by South Vietnamese commandos, operating under American orders, against North Vietnamese coastal and island installations.Although American forces were not directly involved in the ...read more

Nixon announces his candidacy for president

Richard M. Nixon announces his candidacy for the presidency. Most observers had written off Nixon’s political career eight years earlier, when he had lost to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election.Two years after losing to Kennedy, Nixon ran for governor of California and lost in a ...read more

NHL goalie Terry Sawchuk posts 103rd shutout

On this day in 1970, goaltender Terry Sawchuk earns his 103rd shutout, setting an NHL record for most regular-season shutouts that still stands today.Terrance Gordon Sawchuk was born December 28, 1929, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Nicknamed “Ukey” for his Ukrainian heritage, he ...read more

Mormon president goes underground

John Taylor, the president of the Mormon Church, goes “underground” to avoid arrest and continue resisting federal demands for reforms within the community of Latter-day Saints.A former Methodist minister, Taylor converted to Mormonism in 1836, not long after Joseph Smith founded ...read more

“The Corsair” by Lord Byron is published

On this day in 1814, Lord Byron’s “The Corsair” is published and sells some 10,000 copies on its first day in print. The poem was one of several gloomy works he produced at a time when he was engaged in several ill-fated love affairs.Byron was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1788 ...read more

Official registration of Hollywood

On this day in 1887, Harvey Wilcox officially registers Hollywood with the Los Angeles County recorder’s office. Wilcox and his wife, Daeida, had moved to Southern California four years earlier from Topeka, Kansas, where Harvey had made his fortune in real estate. They bought 160 ...read more

Columbia mission ends in disaster

On this day in 2003, the space shuttle Columbia breaks up while entering the atmosphere over Texas, killing all seven crew members on board.The Columbia‘s 28th space mission, designated STS-107, was originally scheduled to launch on January 11, 2001, but was delayed numerous ...read more

Serial killer Ted Bundy strikes again

On this day in 1974, University of Washington student Lynda Ann Healy disappears from her apartment and is killed by Ted Bundy. The murder marked Bundy’s entry into the ranks of serial killers as he had recently attacked his first victim, Sharon Clarke, in her Seattle home. By ...read more

U.N. condemns PRC for aggression

By a vote of 44 to 7, the United Nations General Assembly passes a resolution condemning the communist government of the People’s Republic of China for acts of aggression in Korea. It was the first time since the United Nations formed in 1945 that it had condemned a nation as an ...read more

Texas secedes

On this day in 1861, Texas becomes the seventh state to secede from the Union when a state convention votes 166 to 8 in favor of the measure.The Texans who voted to leave the Union did so over the objections of their governor, Sam Houston.A staunch Unionist,Houston’s election in ...read more

Ford GT makes TV debut in Super Bowl ad

During the Super Bowl on this day in 2004, the first TV commercial airs for the Ford GT, a new, high-performance “supercar” based on Ford’s GT40 race car, which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in France four years in a row starting in 1966. The TV ad for the two-seater ...read more