Collecting and Sorting

Once James Murray and his team had started going through the slips, they decided that these almost two tons of paper were not enough. A lot of volunteers had looked for striking or interesting words but they had all forgotten to look after the ‘ordinary words’. He quickly wrote an appeal to find more volunteers who should help reading. The Press printed his ‘An Appeal to the English-Speaking and English-Reading Public in Great Britain, America, and the British Colonies to read books and make extracts for the Philological Society’s New English Dictionary’ 2,000 times. More than 800 people from the British Isles, as well as from North America, Austria, Holland, New South Wales, Calcutta, Ceylon, New Zealand, and from a dozen other places volunteered gladly to help (Winchester, p. 107-110). Just two years after Murray’s appeal had been sent out the number of quotations had increased by 656,900 (almost 1,000 slips arrived in the Scriptorium every single day).

(Winchester, p.113)
Thus, the first three to four years of Murray’s work were dominated by sifting, sorting, and deciding. In the next stage the more skilful helpers sorted those slips that were spelled the same way according to their different parts of speech. For example: The word lie can serve as a verb, as in to lie down, or as a noun, meaning falsehood. They also arranged the slips in chronological order.