The Oxford English Dictionary began life as a project set up by the Philological Society in 1857 to produce a complete dictionary that would include ‘all English language vocabulary from the Early Middle English period (1150 AD) onward, plus some earlier words if they had continued to be used into Middle English.’
Work began searching for words not listed in current dictionaries. The project was led initially by Philological Society member Richard Chenevix Trench but as he had other duties he handed over the editorship to Herbert Coleridge. When Coleridge died in 1861 Frederick Furnivall took over. In the early 1870s James Murray became editor.
In 1879 James Murray, reached an agreement with the Oxford University Press who agreed to publish the work in a series of volumes. However, it soon became evident that the production of the new dictionary was a massive undertaking that would take decades to complete.
On 1st February 1884 the first part containing words from A to Ant was published. The final part was published in April, 1928. The complete dictionary was given the title A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles. It comprised 10 volumes containing more than 400,000 words.
In 1911 the first edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary was published.
In 1933 the dictionary was republished in 12 volumes as the Oxford English Dictionary. At this time a two volume version, The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary was also published.
In 1984 New Oxford English Dictionary Project was formed. Its task was to digitalise the dictionary. The work was completed by 1989 and in 1992 the first CD ROM version of the dictionary was published.