The OED has put online “the prefatory material that was published with the 125 fascicles, and the cumulated sections, parts, and volumes, in which the OED was originally issued between 1884 and 1928. These were collected in 1987 by Darrell R. Raymond of the University of Waterloo, and republished as Dispatches from the Front.” Raymond’s own preface says:

The Prefaces contain a wealth of historical and lexicographical information about the OED. Each Preface lists the editors, drafters, proofreaders, contributors, and scholars who participated in the fascicle’s production or the investigation of its sources. The magnitude of their labours is well illustrated by tables of statistical data comparing the fascicle to the corresponding sections of other dictionaries, including Johnson’s, Cassell’s, the Century, and Funk’s. Each Preface recounts the difficult or interesting problems that were solved, and outlines the general etymological character of words in that part of the alphabet. As well, the Prefaces contain a number of additions and corrections to the entries as they appear in the fascicles; these emendations were subsequently incorporated in the Supplement.

As in everything else, Murray’s Prefaces set the standard for the OED. While the other editors followed the general format he established, Murray’s Prefaces are always distinguishable. More than any other editor, Murray indulges in extended discussion of etymological and lexicographical curiosities, as for example with BE-, CROSS, ODD, PENNY and TAKE, and his explanation of why American was included while African was excluded (Vol. I). Too, Murray does not hesitate to remind us of the value of the historical method (H–HOD), the conjectures, errors and spurious words in existing works (CLO–CONSIGNER, PENNAGE–PLAT), or the hours that might be spent on the etymology of a word, with the only result being the notation ‘derivation unknown’ (Vol. I).

When I used to frequent a library that had the original fascicles, I took pleasure in browsing through the prefaces, and I am pleased that everyone can now do so easily online. (Via wood s lot, which today also links to a delightful translation of Ilpo Tiihonen’s poem “Kesäillan kevyt käsitteellisyys,” which plays with Finnish grammatical endings: “Ah summer evening, and its eveningness,/ its prodigious wonders and their bridgefulness/ when the nightunited seamlessness/ steals into one’s heart with restfulness…”)

Update (Dec. 2023). The OED link is defunct; the Internet Archive captured this, which will hopefully serve as a replacement (though Raymond’s preface seems to be irretrievable). Thanks, ktschwarz!


  1. Artifex Amando says

    Having seen Google Books mentioned here from time to time, I thought this might be of interest too:

  2. Squeee, teh koolness! Much stuff to print and read this weekend.

  3. Artifex: Thanks, that looks interesting, and I’ll investigate, though frankly I’m so annoyed with Google Books for their various failings that it will take much koolness to convince me that they’ve done this right.

  4. I’ll get used to the new GB coolness, but I’m a bit ticked that they seem to have broken existing vq= links for highlighting on a page.

  5. Too, Murray does not hesitate to remind us of the value…
    I think this is the first time I have noticed sentence-initial “too,” used as a rough equivalent of “furthermore,”. Interesting.

  6. Oh, it goes way back; the OED has cites from the 13th and 14th centuries. From 1641: “Too, we profess our selves the Redeemed of the Lord.”

  7. Cool. If the 1st edition of the OED weren’t inexplicably suppressed on Google Books, I would be able to look this stuff up myself 🙂

  8. Wa-a-ay cool, as they say. I have discovered much pleasant reading in prefaces to dictionaries, encyclopedias and atlases, and look forward to reading Murray’s.

  9. I swear that my first, or nearly first, encounter with initial “too” in this sense was in a spoken utterance — uttered by a friend of mine when I was about 12 or 13. It seemed a little precious, and I had a hunch that he got it from his mother. Kids say the darnedest things!

  10. marie-lucie says

    I don’t find initial “too” so strange – unusual, but I have read it before.

  11. Too, me.

  12. dw: It is not inexplicably suppressed; it merely has not been scanned, and what you see there is the consequence of importing library records. If Google shows you nothing, it is because it has nothing to show you. See my comment to this post.

  13. And now they’ve taken them offline, and they’re not even available via Wayback Machine. Why??

  14. All the prefaces to the First Edition, Second Edition, Additions, Supplements, and Third Edition are now linked on this summary page. But Raymond’s own charming introduction has been dropped; there’s only a dry-as-dust statement that fascicles were published and had prefaces, with nothing to entice you to read them!

    At least Raymond’s introduction can still be found at his own website, unfortunately bundled with all the OED prefaces in a huge, slow-to-open file.

  15. … Welp. All those links have been chopped out of the OED Editions page. Thank you, Internet Archive, for capturing that page just before it was cut, though I haven’t checked all the linked prefaces to see if they successfully saved them all.

    (It may be better to continue discussion of the catastrophic redesign at the post on it at The Life of Words, rather than scattered over multiple threads here.)

    Darrell Raymond’s site is gone, too — redirected to a page that asks for a Google login, and if you give it, tells you there’s nothing there. Internet Archive failed to capture the Dispatches pdf, but at least I downloaded a copy for myself back in 2021.

  16. Jesus, what a mess. Talk about self-inflicted wounds.

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