OED Milestones.

The OED editorial leadership team has decided to change the way they update the dictionary; I’m not entirely clear on how it will work in practice, but it seems significant enough to post here:

Since the launch of the OED website 20 years ago, the OED editorial project has made numerous incremental changes in editorial practices, but the fundamental approach of revising all components of each entry in their entirety before publication has not changed. The website therefore presents a hybrid text, in which some entries are fully revised and others wholly unrevised; this inhibits holistic analysis of the OED dataset and delays implementation of important corrections and updates. Our current efforts are concentrated on finding ways of alleviating this situation, and removing constraints in accessing OED data for research purposes through OED.com or other means, while (as throughout the last decade) continuing with targeted revision of material most in need of thorough reassessment.

To accelerate the benefits of OED’s revision, the project is launching a new initiative, OED Milestones, through which the editorial team will implement cross-textual improvements to the dictionary alongside traditional entry-by-entry revision, as well as making the OED’s data accessible to scholars in new ways. The new approach to editing will be flexible and dynamic, but will in no way compromise the integrity and quality of the OED’s research. In order to facilitate these new ways of working, the project is also implementing some changes to its editorial structure.

They mention things like “Prioritizing those entries or parts of entries which stand in most urgent need of revision,” “Making spot-corrections to inaccurate or outdated entries,” and “Improving coverage of global varieties of English.” On the latter front, the previous OED blog post on Nigerian English makes enjoyable reading; a sample paragraph:

One particularly interesting set of such loanwords and coinages has to do with Nigerian street food. The word buka, borrowed from Hausa and Yoruba and first attested in 1972, refers to a roadside restaurant or street stall that sells local fare at low prices. Another term for such eating places first evidenced in 1980 is bukateria, which adds to buka the –teria ending from the word cafeteria. An even more creative synonym is mama put, from 1979, which comes from the way that customers usually order food in a buka: they say ‘Mama, put…’ to the woman running the stall, and indicate the dish they want. The word later became a generic name for the female food vendors themselves—Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka notably includes a Mama Put character in one of his works.


  1. What it has meant in practice already is the laying off of a significant number of in-house OED staff, to be replaced (or not, perhaps) with freelancers (including some of the laid-off, presumably). Longer term, there are many rumours circulating, but the feeling is things are “not looking good”.

  2. Damn. I’m very sorry to hear that, and I shake my fist at the moneymen who make such decisions. They seem to be everywhere triumphant these days, but nothing lasts forever…

  3. Stu Clayton says

    The word “milestone” is ominous. In general this is merely “a task set in advance”, but as business speak it implies a crackdown on efficiency. In the race to the next milestone, some fall by the wayside. Especially when they are shot down.

    From the WiPe:

    # The OED, as a commercial product, has always had to manoeuvre a thin line between PR, marketing and scholarship and one can argue that its biggest problem is the critical uptake of the work by the interested public. #

  4. Yes, that’s the impression I’m getting. I was already worried by the bafflegab style of the post. If and when I find out more, I will stand up on my hind legs and bark as appropriate.

  5. Stu Clayton says

    The dog in the manger kept the rats away. Yet it always had a bad press.

  6. My initial attempt to read between the lines was that they would be fast-tracking the deletion of Victorian imperialist sexist etc language from the definitions.

  7. Stu Clayton says

    The advantage of which was that it is short and sweet. Replacing it by mealy-mouthed eggshell-treading circumlocution will take decades, and swell each entry to three times its former length. Of course this will need to be ripped out in 50 years time when the New Intolerance has finally established itself.

  8. but the feeling is things are “not looking good”

    That is what I have heard too from my contacts in the world of English lexicography.

  9. I hope bean counters don’t affect “our” OED negatively.

    There was some talk years about giving more access to information maybe including reported antedatings that were not yet used or confirmed or chosen for revisions

    I recall being told that the usual practice was to fully revise an entry, as partial fixes could lead to internal inconsistency.

    For example in the entry “Hoosier” (as people of Indiana are called), it has long been known, among Hoosierologists, that the earliest quote given there, dated 1826 is actually from 1846. And, if that were deleted, the earliest there would be 1833, even though earlier uses are known.

    In 2015, I wrote:
    the earliest known written use (taking the OED’s 1826 claim as mistaken) is from a Feb. 11, 1831 letter from G. S. Murdock proposing to Gen. John Tipton at Logansport to build a steamboat, “the Indiana Hoosier,” and that the earliest known printed use is from Feb. 19, 1831 (“The ‘Hoosher’ country.” See: New Findings on the Earliest Written Uses of “Hoosier,” Jonathan Clark Smith, Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 104, Issue 3, 2008, pp 293-295, thus antedating two later 1831 newspaper uses noted by Dunn, Indiana [1919] 2.1154).

    Here is another 1831 use that may be relevant (or not?) and, as far as I know, hasn’t been mentioned lately. Baltimore Republican, page 2, col. 2, September 29, 1831 [America’s Historical Newspapers; also in Frankfort Argus, page [1], col. 5, vol. 25, iss. 33, September 28, 1831]. It reports (after the Louisville Advertiser) on a Jackson party election victory celebration in Louisville, Kentucky held on the 17th. After speeches
    “The following regular toasts were drunk, with appropriate music:
    1. Our Country.–Her soil is consecrated to liberty by the blood of our forefathers [Hail Columbia….
    10. Gen. John Adair.–In his return to the ensuing Congress, Kentucky exhibits her lively recollection of and gratitude for his eminent public services [Hooshier March by A. M…..”
    Gen John Adair’s service included northwest territory fighting.

  10. The first dictionary fascicle was published on 1 February 1884—twenty-three years after Coleridge’s sample pages. The full title was A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by The Philological Society; the 352-page volume, words from A to ant, cost 12s 6d.[19]:251 (or about $668 in 2013) The total sales were only 4,000 copies.


Speak Your Mind