I have just finished listening to the audio book The Surgeon of Crowthorne (The Professor & the Madman (USA)) by Simon Winchester. It tells the story of the strange collaboration between James A. H. Murray and William Chester Minor in the phenomenal task of producing a New English Dictornary (The OED).
W.C. Minor was one of the keenest volunteers involved in the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. What the OED’s editor, James Murray didn’t realise was that he was also a millionaire American Civil War surgeon turned lunatic, imprisoned in Broadmoor Asylum for murder.
When the members of the Philological Society of London decided, in 1857, that existing English language dictionaries were incomplete and deficient, and called for a complete re-examination of the language from Anglo-Saxon times onward, they knew they were embarking on an ambitious project. However, even they didn’t realize the full extent of the work they initiated, or how long it would take to achieve the final result.
The project proceeded slowly after the Society’s first grand statement of purpose. Eventually, in 1879, the Society made an agreement with the Oxford University Press and James A. H. Murray to begin work on a New English Dictionary (as the Oxford English Dictionary was then known).
JRR Tolkien was one of the contributors to the OED.
The origin of English words and phrases is quite fascinating. I enjoy watching the occasional series which appears on television called Balderdash & Piffle.
Balderdash & Piffle was a major BBC TV series, shown in the UK from May to July 2007, which helped to update the OED. After a wordhunt appeal, contributions from the public were assessed to add earlier evidence to existing entries, or to help write entirely new ones.