Published: “Alien” vs. Editor: “World English” in the OED 1884-2020

Just out from the International Journal of Lexicography, my article on “World English” in the OED:Here’s a link to the journal article, and a copy of the abstract:


This article discusses the changing ways in which the Oxford English Dictionary has recorded the vocabularies of ‘World English’—English as spoken outside of the British Isles—from the first to the present edition. Based on direct analyses of the coded text of multiple editions, it documents and compares the practices of successive editors, taking into account various contextual factors, such as editorial principles and policies, institutional resources, and historical language development. Significant attention is given to labeling practices, including the notorious ‘tramline’ mark of the First Edition and Second Supplement, designating ‘alien’ vocabulary; the evolution of the notion of ‘regional’ English within the dictionary; and the contributions of technology to the art of lexicography. The final section details changes in policy and methods in the current revision and expansion, evaluating both its practices vis-à-vis its predecessors, and the picture it gives us of the current state of World English.

Seamus Heaney on Dictionaries

In the summer of 2012 Seamus Heaney wrote to me on some questions I had sent him about dictionaries and words and etymologies. Bits of what he had to say made it into a couple of talks I did around that time, but I recently rediscovered the original text, and thought it should see the […]

From “Awesomesauce” to “Unlike, v.”: Twitter and the OED

Twitter is emerging as a major source of quotation evidence for the Oxford English Dictionary. In the revisions and additions made to OED3 in 2018, it was the seventh most cited source. In 2019, it was the second most cited source, with 501 quotations, rivaling the Times (of London), with 560, and clobbering the Times […]

A Variorum OED

The Oxford English Dictionary is a notoriously patchy text, having been written and re-written over a span of 130 years or so. In a recent post I put together a graphic representation of this, coloring bits from different editions, additional series and supplements. But even an up-to-date, revised entry in OED3 is a patchwork, combining […]

Fulsome Recovery

The 1989 Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary will tell you that you’re wrong if your think fulsome means the same as full. If you give a ‘fulsome answer’ to some question (as I’ve noticed many people do), it will tell you that your answer is ‘disgusting, repulsive, odious’, ‘Offensive to good taste’ and ‘gross […]

“Covid-19”, and other swiftly documented words in the OED

The OED documented the verb to Google in a 2006 update, eight years after the first occurrence of this sense in print (1998, in eGroups, an old mailing list). Happy slap and derivatives also took eight years to get in, appearing in 2013.  Ditto paywall (published 2012), sext (2015), retweet (2015), and Schmallenberg virus (2019). Omnishambolic (2019) and live-blog (2013) took […]

LOWBot Goes a(n)-Antedating

In an earlier post, OED Antedating OED, I documented how OED3’s rate of antedating had improved dramatically since the revision kicked off in 2000, from around 35-40% of word entries antedated in the first five or six years of updates, to above 60% since 2012, noting that one reason for the improvement must be the […]

New Map of Indigenous American Words in English

For some time I’ve been meaning to update my map of pathways into English of  Indigenous American Words, which was based on the Second (1989) Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. With a couple of hours to spare while watching the kids this week, I managed to get around to it, using data from the […]

And we have Coverage!

Here’s the cover of my new book, out in April/May from OUP: Image credit: “Iskandar and the Talking Tree”, from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (977-1010 CE), Bodleian MS. Ouseley Add.176, fol. 311v.  

More Precisions on Revisions

In the comments to my last post [OED3 Revision Revised for 2020] I posted this chart, in reply to a remark about projected completion: This implies that revision has slowed down somewhat in the last ten years, and even more in the last five. But it was pointed out to me elsewhere that entries per […]