Project: The Life of Words

This is the online home of The Life of Words, a long-term research project based at St Jerome’s University in the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Ontario. The broadest way of describing the focus of this project is to say that it investigates the importance of words in culture.

More specifically, The Life of Words is interested the interchanges between different ways of thinking about words, their current and historical meanings, connotations, usages, and effects, from the lexicographical or lexicological, to the philosophical, the popular, and (especially) the poetic.

2022-2027 SSHRC Insight Grant

Opening the Oxford English Dictionary: A Data-Enhanced, Research-Ready Historical Dictionary

In 2022 I received C$265,000 in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to continue data enhancement work on the Oxford English Dictionary. Over the next five years I’ll be working to produce a Variorum (or track-changes) OED, based on current and previous editions and supplements, as well as a rational and “research-ready” bibliography of OED sources. Most of the money from SSHRC will be going into RA wages and salaries to help me munge through mountains of data. For more see press releases from St Jerome’s University and the UWaterloo Faculty of Arts, as well as posts on this site.

Please note that “The Life of Words” and “Opening the Oxford English Dictionary” are independent research projects led by David-Antoine Williams at St Jerome’s University in the University of Waterloo, and are not institutionally affiliated with the Oxford English Dictionary or Oxford University.

In 2015-2020, under the auspices of an Ontario Early Researcher Award, we enhanced an earlier version of the Oxford English Dictionary, with evidence quotations marked for literary genre.

Learn more about people affiliated with the project on out Team page.

This blog picks up where a previous research blog, Poetry & Contingency (2012-14), left off – many posts on similar topics can still be found there.

Here you will find occasional posts discussing work in progress, results of experiments with computer models and algorithms, random discoveries, and general observations on the fascinating lives of words.

Key themes of near-term interest to The Life of Words include:

  • Poetry – how poems thinks about words per se; how they incorporate other ways of lexical thinking into their own thought; especially, how they use dictionaries and other lexical records; how they influence other ways of thinking about words, including lexicography, but also popular; poetry and etymology; poets and their dictionaries; lexicography and intertextuality.
  • Dictionaries – the Oxford English Dictionary, in its various editions; The Historical Thesaurus of the OED; older American dictionaries such as Webster’s and Worcester’s; specialist dictionaries; how people, including poets but also people in general, think about dictionaries and what’s inside them.
  • Digital Humanities – working with large text corpora; computer assisted literary criticism; poetry and the Oxford English Dictionary.
  • Specific authors – The prose and poetry of Emily Dickinson, G. M. Hopkins, T. S. Eliot, Geoffrey Hill, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Don Paterson, and a bunch of others.

Creative Commons License
Content published at The Life of Words is by David-Antoine Williams and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

When quoting or referring to The Life of Words, please include a link to the relevant page online, and the following information in any print citation:

Williams, David-Antoine. “[Post Title]”. The Life of Words (blog). [Date of post]. [Date accessed] ([page]). eg:

Williams, David-Antoine. “Acrasial Philogamy”. The Life of Words (blog). 15 June 2014. Accessed 25 June 2014 (