by Amanda Laugesen
When James Murray, first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), set about his massive project of defining and chronicling the English language, he realised the need for a volunteer force to undertake the reading of printed works in the English language. In April 1879 he sent out ‘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’. He asked people to: ‘Make a quotation for every word that strikes you as rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar or used in a peculiar way.’
The appeal was submitted to newspapers, as well as placed in bookshops and libraries across Britain, the US, and in Australia and Canada. Hundreds responded, many signing up to undertake the reading program that would provide the evidence (written on pieces of paper called ‘slips’) that was used to compile the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.
The most famous of these volunteer readers and collectors of evidence was W.C. Minor, inmate of the Broadmoor mental institution, who has been immortalised in Simon Winchester’s best-selling book The Surgeon of Crowthorne (1998). Minor sometimes collected more than a hundred slips a week, which he sent to the Scriptorium, the corrugated-iron shed where Murray and his team worked on the Dictionary.
Dictionaries based on historical principles (i.e. those that include quotations as evidence of the historical development of the language), such as the OED and the Australian National Dictionary, rely on many readers to contribute to the collection of material. More generally, centres such as ours, the Australian National Dictionary Centre, look to the public to alert us to new words. To do this more effectively we have introduced a new means by which you can help us do our work. This new feature, which you can find on the ANDC’s homepage (http://andc.anu.edu.au/), is called Word Box. Word Box is an online submission page where you can submit new words, ideally telling us something about them and telling us where you found them.
We will use the material submitted to Word Box to assist us in our updating of new dictionaries and in our collection of Australian words.
Words already submitted (not necessarily Australian, but perhaps to be added to our general dictionaries) include:
squee – a squeal of excitement, mostly used on the internet
green on blue – the killing of NATO troops by Afghan security forces
yarn bombing – guerrilla art using yarns and fibres (find some images of this here)
We look forward to reading your contributions!