Murray's filing system (OUP Museum)
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Thursday, 31 January 2013
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Historical development of word
Role 2 of quotations: to display historical development of word or sense
In an anticipation of the nineteenth-century classical Greek lexicographer, Frank Passow (1786-1833), and of the OED founders who consciously followed in Passow's footsteps, Johnson also hoped that listing the illustrative quotations in their historical order would reveal the semantic development of a word or sense: as he wrote, 'By this method every word will have its history, and the reader will be informed of the gradual changes of the language, and have before his eyes the rise of some words, and the fall of others'.

Compare the formulation by Herbert Coleridge, first editor of the OED (1859-60): 'the theory of lexicography we profess is that which Passow was the first to enunciate clearly and put in practice successfully – viz., "that every word should be made to tell its own story" – the story of its birth and life, and in many cases of its death, and even occasionally of its resuscitation' (Coleridge 1860: 72; see http://www.oed.com/archive/paper-deficiencies/p72.html [accessed 5 August 2005] and Proposal 1859: 4; see also Aarsleff 1983: 252-5).

The point was made again by his successor Murray in the Preface to volume I of the Dictionary (A-B), published in 1888, in which he explains that the 'facts' presented in the Dictionary are illustrated by 'a series of quotations ranging from the first known occurrence of the word to the latest, or down to the present day; the word being thus made to exhibit its own history and meaning' (p. vi).

And Murray repeated the same idea in 1900, when delivering his Romanes lecture on the history of lexicography at Oxford:
This dictionary [i.e. the OED] superadds to all the features that have been successively evolved by the long chain of workers, the historical information which Dr Trench desiderated. It seeks not merely to record every word that has been used in the language for the last 800 years, with its written form and signification, and the pronunciation of current words, but to furnish a biography of each word. (Murray 1900: 46-7)
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