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OED editions (old version)
NOTE: the material in this section of the site is now out of date following the re-launch of OED Online in December 2010. Our new pages start here

OED's publication history: initial information
Before embarking on a search of OED Online (a resource which is available free to individuals in the UK via their public libraries, and to others via individual or institutional subscriptions; seehttp://www.oed.com/page/howtosub/free-trials-and-how-to-subscribe), it is helpful to bear in mind the history of the Dictionary and the different dates at which material was compiled and assembled. (For elucidation, see Which edition contains what?) When one enters OED Online and begins a search for any item, the initial results are selected from a composite dictionary: OED2 merged with OED3.

OED2 itself (published 1989) is a composite dictionary, consisting of the first edition of OED (OED1, mostly edited by Murray and published 1884-1928) merged with the four volumes of Burchfield's Supplement (1972-86). Most of the material in OED2, therefore, has remained unchanged since 1928, and some of it - from the earlier parts of the alphabet - was put in its final form as long ago as 1884 (and can look very out of date). Other portions, however, were added as recently as 1986. There is no typographical or any other distinction between the two types of content, i.e. that deriving from Murray et al. and that deriving from Burchfield - though often one can guess which is which by looking at the date of the quotation(s). (Caution is required here: Burchfield added a small number of quotations from pre-1880 sources.)

  • So if you look up cat, n.¹ in OED Online you get an entry composed by Murray in 1889, whose last quotation under sense I. 1. a. is dated 1832.
  • If you look up monitrix, n. in OED Online you get an entry composed by the OED3 lexicographers in September 2002, whose last quotation is dated 1993.
  • If you look up introsusception in OED Online you get an entry composed by Murray in 1901, whose last quotations under senses 2. and 3. are dated 1857. One of the earlier quotations under sense 2., however, dated 1786, was in fact added by Burchfield in his Supplement volume of 1976.

In each case, OED Online supplies a date for the entry, which can be found at the top right hand corner of the screen: 

  • cat and introsusception are each marked 'SECOND EDITION 1989', since they derive most immediately from OED2 (though their ultimate origin is, as we have seen, more complex than this). 
  • monitrix is marked 'DRAFT REVISION Sept. 2002', and this tells us that it is an entry that has been revised by OED3. A button to the right of this label, marked 'Earlier' can be clicked on and gives access to the OED2 entry, so that we can compare OED2 (in this case, a mixture of OED1 and Burchfield), with the latest revision. (In OED2, the word was evidenced with one quotation, of 1727; OED3 has antedated this with a quotation of 1611, and supplied two examples of twentieth-century usage – one from Finnegans Wake, 1939, and one dated 1993).

Much of Examining the OED is devoted to investigation of OED1's sources. It is not possible to search OED1 electronically, so we derive our data on OED1 from OED2, attempting to screen out Burchfield's contribution to pre-1880 material where we can identify it. (See Note on Appendix of Tables in Willinsky 1994.)

OED3 is rewriting OED2 in its entirety, but it can do so only slowly. To date (December 2009) it has covered the alphabet range reputeless. Generally speaking, if one looks up a word in OED Onlineoutside this alphabet range, one gets OED2's treatment of it, while if one looks up a word inside this alphabet range, one gets OED3's new treatment of it. 

However, since June 2001new entries from across the alphabet have been added (such as acid jazzalcopopBollywood and hundreds of others), and in March 2008 the first batch of 'cross-alphabet revision was published (see this page on OED Online, which describes how 'On 13 March 2008 the New Edition [i.e. OED3] was updated with revised entries in a series of discrete alphabetical ranges, as well as the addition of new entries from across the alphabet.'

An added complication is that three volumes of Additions – new vocabulary and senses recorded after the publication of OED2 – were published between 1989 and March 2000 (when OED first went online); material from these volumes is placed at the foot of the relevant OED2 entry and clearly identified (see, for example, achy, a.).

One can access the OED2 version of an entry by clicking on the hyperlink SEARCH THE SECOND EDITION (1989) in the box on the left-hand side of the ADVANCED SEARCH screen.

Click here for guidance on How to search the OED Online.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 19 October 2011 )
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