To the Editors:

As many of your readers may be aware, the Oxford University Press is planning a complete revision of the Oxford English Dictionary. We, the Co-Editors, would like to enlist the expertise of the literary and academic community to help in this task. The proposed revision will build on the work done for the Second Edition of the OED, published in 1989. The chief achievement of this edition lay in the complete computerization of the text of the original OED and its four-volume Supplement, which was then integrated into a single database of information about the history of the English language. Some revisions were made to this text—for instance, pronunciations were converted to the International Phonetic Alphabet—and a substantial number of new words were added. But, as the current editors made clear in the preliminary matter to the Second Edition, the greater part of the text is still substantially that which was published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by Sir James Murray and his successors. In the words of the Introduction to the Second Edition, “the full revision and updating of the Dictionary…must be regarded as a long-term goal, demanding considerable resources, and therefore to be approached in stages.”

The first of these stages is the collecting together of the vast quantity of linguistic information which has come to light since the publication of the First Edition of the OED. The early editors drew on a substantial body of learning in compiling the text, but in the light of current knowledge many of their etymologies, definitions, register labels, and first usage dates can be improved upon. Much work has since been done which has added to our understanding of how the English language has developed across the centuries, and numerous antedatings and more modern examples of usage have become available. A great deal of this information has accumulated in the files of the Oxford University Press’s Dictionary department since the beginning of this century, much of it contributed by scholars working with historical texts; further evidence has been or will be uncovered by the OED’s researchers working in libraries across the world.

However, the very magnitude of the task of reviewing the OED inevitably means that not all this information can be tracked down by full-time researchers without the help of the scholars who generated it. Many writers and academics, in the course of their work, have come across and remarked upon earlier examples of usage than those recorded by the OED, senses not represented at all, and new etymological and bibliographical information. These findings are often published in footnotes to books and articles, or as appendices, but in the ever-growing body of scholarly literature on texts and textual criticism many of these notes have inevitably failed to find their way into the store of information collected over the years by past and present editors of the Dictionary.

Perhaps the best means of ensuring that such discoveries are taken into account during the proposed revision is for scholars themselves to draw attention to their own work. We are therefore appealing to anyone working on a literary, social, or other historical text who has found a discrepancy between the material with which they are working and an entry in the OED, no matter how trivial, to send their comments to us. In particular we should like to be notified of any textual material that is likely to modify the dating and status of words and meanings listed in the Second Edition of the Dictionary. We would also be grateful to receive references to any work in which information has been published which may have a bearing on the proposed revision of the OED text. All communications will be acknowledged by the Editors, and a file of the names of contributors will be maintained for acknowledgment in the final publication. Suggestions, comments, and details of publications may be emailed to or sent to The Editors, Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Walton Street, Oxford OX2 6DP, UK, fax number 865–267810.

John Simpson
Edmund Weiner
Co-Editors,Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford University Press
Oxford, England

This Issue

March 3, 1994