I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars. — Og Mandino

po_Dictionary-Oxford1The Oxford English Dictionary, published by the Oxford University Press, is the largest dictionary of English.

Work began on the dictionary in 1857 but it was not until 1884 that it started to be published in unbound fascicles as work continued on the project under the name A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by The Philological Society.

In 1895, the title The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was first used unofficially on the covers of the series and in 1928 the full dictionary was republished in ten bound volumes. In 1933, it fully replaced the name in all occurrences to The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in its reprinting as twelve volumes with a one volume supplement and more supplements came over the years until in 1989 when the second edition was published in twenty volumes. As of 24 March 2011, the editors had completed the third edition from M to Ryvita. With descriptions for approximately 750,000 words, the Oxford English Dictionary is the world’s most comprehensive single-language print dictionary according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

The first electronic version of the dictionary was made available in 1988. The online version has been available since 2000, and as of August 2010 was receiving two million hits per month from paying subscribers. The third edition of the dictionary will probably only appear in electronic form. The chief executive of Oxford University Press, Nigel Portwood, feels it unlikely that it will ever be printed.

The OED’s official policy is to attempt to record a word’s most-known usages and variants in all varieties of English past and present, worldwide. Per the 1933 “Preface”:

The aim of this Dictionary is to present in alphabetical series the words that have formed the English vocabulary from the time of the earliest records [ca. AD740] down to the present day, with all the relevant facts concerning their form, sense-history, pronunciation, and etymology. It embraces not only the standard language of literature and conversation, whether current at the moment, or obsolete, or archaic, but also the main technical vocabulary, and a large measure of dialectal usage and slang.

It continues:

Hence we exclude all words that had become obsolete by 1150 [the end of the Old English era]… Dialectal words and forms which occur since 1500 are not admitted, except when they continue the history of the word or sense once in general use, illustrate the history of a word, or have themselves a certain literary currency.

The OED is the focus of much scholarly work about English words. Its headword variant spellings order list influences written English in English-speaking countries.