The Oxford English Dictionary
Johnson’s work was among the first that focused on several aspects within one entry. It addressed meanings, origins, grammar and examples of the words. Although there had been various dictionaries before, none of them had combined these different aspects before. There was no comprehensive dictionary containing the complete facets of the English language.
In 1842, the wealthy Oxfordshire landowner Edwin Guest established the ‘Philological Society’. The Society’s task was to “investigate the Structure, the Affinity and the History of Languages” (Winchester, p. 37). Over the years, the Society’s interest shifted more and more towards English. In 1857, Herbert Coleridge, Frederick Furnivall, and the Dean of Westminster, Richard Chenevix Trench, three members of the Philological Society, formulated their concerns about the English dictionaries. They voiced the opinion that the information in existing dictionaries did not suffice. For this reason, they agreed to create a new dictionary with all the information they could find on a word: meaning, etymology, grammar, variant spellings, pronunciation and examples. This dictionary should be based on “the close reading of all known and published English literature” (Winchester, p. 42). As this task could not have been realised by one mind only, Dean Trench named this project to be a project of all men.
In May 1860, the structure the project was fixed, the team was put together and the project was finally started. No one, however, had thought that it would take about 68 years before the dictionary would see the light of day.