THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY
You may think that English dictionaries have been used for many, many centuries. The spelling of English has always been a problem but it was more of a problem in the days before a dictionary. Then people could spell words in different ways which you might find interesting. But it made reading English much more difficult. So dictionaries were invented to encourage everybody to spell the same. In fact, an English dictionary like the kind you use today wasn't made until the time of the late Qing Dynasty. Three men did most of the important early work on dictionaries: Samuel Johnson, Noah Webster, and James Murray. These men spent nearly all of their lives trying to collect words for their dictionaries. For them, it wasn't only a job; it was a wonderful journey of discovery. The largest dictionary in the world is the Oxford English Dictionary, or OED for short. The idea for this dictionary came from an important meeting in Britain in 1857. Twenty-two years later, Oxford University asked James Murray to be the editor of its new dictionary.
Murray had never been to college. At the age of fourteen, he left his village school in Scotland and taught himself while working in a bank. Later he became a great teacher. After Oxford gave him the job, Murray had a place built in the garden behind his house to do his work. Part of it was one metre underground. In winter it felt like a barn, he had to wear a heavy coat and put his feet in a box to keep warm. Every morning, Murray got out of bed at five o'clock and worked several hours before breakfast. Often he would work by candle light into the evening. Murray hoped to finish the new dictionary in ten years. But after five years, he was still adding words for the letter A! Then others went to work with Murray, including his two daughters. He worked on the dictionary until he was very old. Forty-four years later, in 1928, other editors finished it. It included more than 15,000 words in twelve books. And you thought your English dictionary was big!
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