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.’
Elsie Murray (left) and Rosfrith Murray (right), lexicographers on the first edition of the OED, pictured with their father James Murray, Editor of the OED (centre front) and back row: A. T. Maling, F. J. Sweatman, F. A. Yockney.
by Sarah Ogilvie
On International Women’s Day, it seems appropriate to pay tribute to female dictionary-makers, present and past. Australia has had its fair share of English-language dictionary specialists including Jay Arthur, Ann Atkinson, Maureen Brooks, Pauline Bryant, Sue Butler, June Factor, Bernadette Hince, Joan Hughes, Dorothy Jauncey, Lenie (Midge) Johansen, Nancy Keesing, Anne Knight, Amanda Laugesen, Alison Moore, Sarah Ogilvie, Pam Peters, Joan Ritchie, and Julia Robinson. As a young lexicographer at the Australian National Dictionary Centre in the early 1990s, I was surprised to discover that every lexicographer, except for the Director, was a woman. Globally, there are also prominent women: Katherine Barber (Canada), Dianne Bardsley (New Zealand), Jean Branford (South Africa), Joan Houston Hall (USA), Judy Pearsall (UK), and Penny Silva (South Africa), to name just a few.