The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is one of the foremost English-language reference works in the world. First conceived of as a project in 1857, the first fascicle of the first edition (A-ant) was published in 1884. The first edition was only completed in 1928. Today the OED is online, ever expanding, and far too large to publish in print. The OED has created a tradition of English-language lexicography on historical principles. But it has also inspired popular histories (The Surgeon of Crowthorne), movies (The Professor and the Madman), and novels (Pip Williams’ The Dictionary of Lost Words). The OED is in many ways a product of its nineteenth-century origins. It reflected and shaped particular ways of thinking about language, evidence, and the world. It remains dominant in chronicling the history of the English language, although not without criticism.
Dr Amanda Laugesen is a historian and lexicographer, and is director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the ANU and chief editor of the Australian National Dictionary: Australian Words and their Origins. She is the author of a number of books in Australian and US history, including the recent Rooted: An Australian History of Bad Language (NewSouth, 2020).