HE idea for a New English Dictionary (as it was originally called) was first proposed in 1857 by a London group called the Philological Society, who researched the origin and meaning of words.

The project was led by Richard Chenevix Trench, Herbert Coleridge and Frederick Furnivall. Coleridge became the first editor of the Dictionary and amassed a group of volunteer readers to read English literature and extract quotations to illustrate the usage of words. Coleridge died in 1861 and was succeeded as editor by Furnivall. Although enthusiastic about the project, Furnivall lacked the necessary discipline required for the work and the project faltered during the next 20 years.

In 1879 Oxford University Press agreed to publish the work. It was also at this time that a new editor was found; James Murray, now President of the Philological Society (pictured right). Murray was from the lowlands of Scotland and he showed an interest in language at a very early age. As editor of the Dictionary, he rejuvenated the volunteer reading program and established a small team of staff in his 'Scriptorium', first at his home in London, and later at his home in Oxford.

The first fascicle (or part) of the Dictionary was published in 1884 and covered A-Ant. Instalments of the Dictionary were issued at regular intervals over the next 44 years, until the final part was published in 1928, producing a ten volume work. By this time, editorial work on the Dictionary had been shared between Murray and three co-editors - Henry Bradley, William Craigie and Charles Onions. Sadly neither Murray nor Bradley lived to see the completion of the First Edition of the Dictionary.

In 1933 the First Edition was re-issued in twelve volumes, and a one volume Supplement was published to bring the OED up to date. This was followed by a four volume Supplement in the 1970s-80s, edited by Robert Burchfield. The First Edition and Supplements were amalgamated in 1989 to produce the 20-volume Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, edited by John Simpson and Edmund Weiner. A CD Rom was issued in 1992 and the OED Online was launched in 2000. A third edition of the OED is currently in production and is published online quarterly.