Hat tip to Crackerjack Copyeditor, who gave MRP the heads-up that on this day, February 1, in 1884, the Oxford English Dictionary debuted. According to the History Channel:
On this day in 1884, the first portion, or fascicle, of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), considered the most comprehensive and accurate dictionary of the English language, is published. . . . Plans for the dictionary began in 1857 when members of London’s Philological Society, who believed there were no up-to-date, error-free English dictionaries available, decided to produce one that would cover all vocabulary from the Anglo-Saxon period (1150 A.D.) to the present. Conceived of as a four-volume, 6,400-page work, it was estimated the project would take 10 years to finish. In fact, it took over 40 years until the 125th and final fascicle was published in April 1928 and the full dictionary was complete—at over 400,000 words and phrases in 10 volumes—and published under the title A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles.
And here was my favorite cocktail party tidbit about the whole thing:
Today, the dictionary’s second edition is available online to subscribers and is updated quarterly with over 1,000 new entries and revisions. At a whopping 20 volumes weighing over 137 pounds, it would reportedly take one person 120 years to type all 59 million words in the OED.
No word on how long it would take a monkey, hitting keys on a keyboard at random, to produce the OED, though.