"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Facts about the Oxford English Dictionary

The Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use.  (The average 16 year old has a vocabulary of only 10,000-12,000 words so would find a few words he or she didn't know.)

The First Edition

The proposed size of the first edition was 4 volumes, 6,400 pages (with provision for ‘a larger dictionary containing not fewer than 10 volumes, each containing not less than 1,600 pages’).  The actual size was 10 volumes, 15,490 pages

Proposed time to complete: 10 years.  Actual time to complete: 70 years (from approval date)

Publication date: 1884-1928 in 128 fascicles. Published in 10 volumes in 1928 and reissued in 12 volumes in 1933, with the addition of a one-volume Supplement.

Price of fascicles: 12 shillings and sixpence for large sections.  Price of bound volumes (1928): from 50 to 55 guineas for the set, depending on binding

Number of pages edited by James Murray: est., 7,200.  Number of contributors (readers): est. 2,000.  Number of quotations submitted by contributors: est. 5 million.  Number of quotations used in Dictionary: 1,861,200.  Number of authors represented in quotations: 2,700.  Number of works represented in quotations: 4,500

The Supplement (1972-1986)  

Proposed size: one volume, 1,300 pages.  Actual size: 4 volumes, 5,730 pages.

Proposed time to complete: 7 years.   Actual time to complete: 30 years

Publication date: vol. 1, 1972; vol. 2, 1976; vol. 3, 1982; vol. 4, 1986

Number of entries: 69,300.  Number of quotations: est. 527,000.

The Second Edition (1989)

Proposed size: 20 volumes.  Actual size: 20 volumes, 21,730 pages

Publication date: 1989

Weight of text: 62.6 kilos or 137.72 lbs.

Amount of ink used to print complete run: 2,830 kilos or 6,243 lbs.

Number of words in entire text: 59 million

Number of printed characters: 350 million

Number of different typographical characters used in text: approx.: 750 (660 special plus approx. 90 on regular keyboard)

Equivalent person years used to ‘key in’ text to convert to machine-readable form: 120

Equivalent person years to proof-read text: 60

Number of megabytes of electronic storage required for text: 540

Number of entries: 291,500

Number of main entries: 231,100

Number of main entries for obsolete words: 47,100

Number of main entries for spurious words: 240

Number of main entries for non-naturalized words: 12,200

Longest entry in Dictionary: the verb ‘set’ with over 430 senses consisting of approximately 60,000 words or 326,000 characters

Number of cross-reference entries: 60,400

Number of cross-references within entries: 580,600

Number of word forms defined and/or illustrated: 615,100

Number of pronunciations: 139,900

Number of etymologies: 219,800

Number of quotations: 2,436,600

Most frequently quoted work (in various full and partial version, and translations): Bible (est. 25,000 quotations)

Most frequently quoted single author: Shakespeare (approx. 33,300 quotations)

Most frequently quoted single work of Shakespeare: Hamlet (almost 1,600 quotations)

Percentage of quotations by centuries:
20th century 20 per cent
19th century 31
18th century 11
17th century 16
16th century 10
15th century 4.5
14th century 3.5
13th century 1
1st to 12th centuries 1
Undated (see note) 0.5

Note: ‘Undated’ includes approximately 1,250 quotations from Beowulf, with the balance consisting of proverbs, nursery rhymes, ‘made up’ illustrations, and references to the appearance of word forms ‘in mod. Dicts.’

The OED Additions Series (1993, 1997)

Volume 1 (1993)
Number of entries (new senses added): 3152
Number of pages: 334

Volume 2 (1993)
Number of entries (new senses added): 3335
Number of pages: 336

Volume 3 (1997)
Number of entries (new senses added): 3319
Number of pages: 352


  1. I've no real idea why but I have always wanted to own a copy of the OED. Our recent mentions of Dr Dorothy A Gough (Physician and Surgeon) 's surgery being pertinent.