TDH: The Oxford English Dictionary


February 1st, 1884: The first fascicle of the OED published.

Many an eager speller has quit within days of trying to read the abridged version of the dictionary from cover to cover. Writing the very first unabridged edition took a bit more time and determination.The project was dreamed up by the London Philological Society in 1857 and expected it to take 10 years. It was actually finally completed in 1928, 70 years after the idea was conceived and 54 years after work began. It took a year of wrangling between the Society and the Oxford University Press just to get started. When completed, it included almost 2 million illustrative quotations drawn from the over 5 million suggested by literally thousands of volunteer readers. Most notable among these was Dr. W. C. Minor, a Union veteran who had been committed to London’s Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane after killing a working man during a schizophrenic episode. From his cells, where it was presumed that he would simply live out his years, he dedicated 21 years of his life. In one 2-year period he provided no fewer than 12,000 quotations. If the very existence of the Oxford English Dictionary is a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit in the face of the most daunting challenges. The work of Dr W.C.Minor is proof of the redeeming power of focused and selfless work.

Simon Winchester entertainingly tells the story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary in his The Meaning of Everything. His The Professor and the Madman focuses on the story of Dr. Minor and Prof James Murray the editor of the project.

By the way:
fascicle, n.
Etymology:  < Latin fasciculus diminutive of fascis: see fasces n.
2. A part, number, ‘livraison’ (of a work published by instalments); = fasciculus n. 2.
1647   J. Mayne Late Serm. False Prophets 19   In your next Fascicle, you say, that I maintaine that some things[etc.].
1858   T. Carlyle Hist. Friedrich II of Prussia II. x. ii. 606   Suhm translates; sends it to him..fascicle by fascicle, with commentaries.
1887   Homeop. World 1 Nov. 521   The Sixth Fascicle completes this beautiful work.


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