Oxford Dictionaries FAQ
New words FAQ
How are new words added to an Oxford dictionary?
Words can be added to one of our online dictionaries through a variety of channels:
OED: Once a word enters the OED, it is never removed so it has to merit its place. We consider a word for inclusion once we have gathered independent examples from a wide variety of sources and the word has demonstrated its longevity by being in use for a reasonable amount of time – ideally 10 years, but five is the minimum. We continuously monitor developments in the English language.
oxforddictionaries.com: The process for adding words to oxforddictionaries.com is similar to that of the OED, but the turnaround time can be much faster. We're particularly concerned with monitoring and adding high-profile new technical, lifestyle, and informal vocabulary derived from corpus evidence, and we are also very interested in new meanings of existing words as well as entirely new coinages.
On some of our language sites, we offer users the opportunity to add words directly to the dictionary. Until these have been validated by our in-house experts, these suggestions are clearly marked as user-generated content. These sites are monitored and edited by our language experts.
How do you find new words and meanings?
For English, we have a ‘corpus’, or database, which collects around 150 million words in use each month, using automated criteria to scan new web content. This is used to track and verify new and emerging words and meanings on a daily basis, and we have a dedicated team of editors, in the UK and US, whose job it is to identify, define, and add new English words to the OED and to oxforddictionaries.com. Additionally, we use corpora to identify new words and meanings in other languages alongside more traditional methods, such as suggestions submitted by users and our own editorial community. We run reading programmes where nominated readers look for new words or new senses of existing words. And we invite language communities to submit words for inclusion directly to some of our language sites.
How many new words enter the English language every year?
This is impossible to answer meaningfully. Not least because quite often a new word is actually a new sense of an existing word, and some people might not count that as being genuinely new.
How many new words are added to the OED / oxforddictionaries.com every year?
Several thousand words, including whole new entries and new senses of existing words.
I’ve made up a word. Can you add it to your dictionary?
People often send us words they have made up and ask if we will add them to one of our dictionaries. Unfortunately, the answer is usually no, because we only add words that we consider to have genuinely entered the language. We assess this by looking at all the evidence we have in our databases. Of course, some invented words do catch on and become an established part of language, either because they fill a gap or because they are describing something new. Examples of this type of invented word in English include quark, spoof, and hobbit.
For more information visit en.oxforddictionaries.com.
How many words are there in the dictionary?
As of September 2016, the OED contained over 845,318 senses in just over 278,000 main entries.
oxforddictionaries.com has more than 100,000 main entries.
What’s the difference between the OED and the English site on oxforddictionaries.com?
While oxforddictionaries.com focuses on current language and practical usage, the OED shows how words and meanings change over time.
OED is a historical dictionary that forms a record of all the core words and meanings in English over more than 1,000 years. It includes obsolete and historical terms as well as current slang. The OED orders meanings chronologically, starting from when they were first recorded in English.
oxforddictionaries.com focuses on modern meanings and uses of words. Where words have more than one meaning, the most important and common meanings are given first, and less common or more specialist or technical uses come further down the entry.
What are the OED Appeals?
OED Appeals are an opportunity for editors to ask for the public’s help in uncovering the history of particular words and phrases. Each appeal is an invitation to assist OED editors in finding the earliest recorded date (or some other key aspect) of a word, to provide an accurate picture of when it made its first appearance in English.
The OED has welcomed contributions from the general public since the project began over 150 years ago. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, thousands of volunteers contributed evidence, which came to form the core material of the first edition of the dictionary. The online Appeals continue the OED’s long tradition of collaborating with the public.
More information: OED Appeals.
What is the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary (HTOED)?
The HTOED is different from many modern thesauruses – often synonym dictionaries which are usually arranged alphabetically. Instead, the HTOED structures the words in the OED by concept and on a chronological timeline. It has three main categories – ‘the external world’, ‘the mind’, and ‘society’ – each of which is divided into hundreds of subsections. So if you look up tasty you’ll find it in the category ‘delicious or tasty’, which is within ‘qualities of food’, ultimately within ‘the external world’. In the ‘delicious or tasty’ category, you will find all the words in English for this concept, arranged chronologically. This shows you that the earliest word for the concept is delicious itself, first recorded in 1340, followed by words like toothsome, tasty, and more recently scrumptious and finger-lickin’.
More information: HTOED.
How can I access an Oxford dictionary online?
Visit Our Languages page to find all the links to each of our language websites.
What other dictionaries do you publish?
Oxford University Press (OUP) publishes over 500 dictionaries, thesauruses, and language reference works which cater for the needs of everyone, from very young children, to academics, and speakers of different languages across the world.
How often do you update your dictionaries?
We have a programme of updating our online content continuously, to keep abreast of changes and developments in each language. We also apply the updates to our print dictionaries, but not as regularly. We publish updates to the OED four times a year, in March, June, September, and December.
Do you write all of the example sentences?
The example sentences we use are taken from a huge variety of different sources of real English. They are not invented by editors and do not represent the views or opinions of Oxford University Press.
How are example sentences selected?
We often receive queries about the example sentences on OxfordDictionaries.com. Some people assume that they are written by the lexicographers who produce the definitions, but in fact they are chosen from real-life examples collected on Oxford’s corpora — vast databases of text drawn from many publications, websites, and other sources. Oxford takes an evidence-based approach to lexicography, meaning that all entries must be based on actual examples of the word in use.
Choosing a good example sentence is just as difficult as writing a good definition. Lexicographers use software to analyse examples of a word in order to determine the most typical manner in which it is used. The ideal example supports its definition by showing the word or sense in a typical grammatical and semantic context, in combination with other words it is statistically associated with and thereby reflecting the observed reality of English usage. The best examples don’t draw attention to themselves — they are so ordinary as to be downright boring. Dictionary examples should never include content that is likely to distract from the essential information the entry is trying to convey about how a word is used.
Needless to say, as in any human enterprise, the selection of example sentences sometimes falls short of the ideal. Often, a real-world example beautifully captures a particular nuance of meaning or usage but involves distractingly peculiar or perplexing details. In more troubling cases, a poorly chosen example sentence might inadvertently repeat factually incorrect, prejudiced, or offensive statements from the source. These judgements are subjective, but we do our best to eliminate such examples, and are grateful when readers point them out to us so that we can review our content; in some cases, cultural sensitivities may have evolved since a particular example was originally chosen.
Will a third edition of the OED be printed?
We have not decided on the format in which we will publish our dictionaries (including the OED) in the future, as the technology around us and the ways in which we find and use content are changing all the time. It is likely to be many years before we complete our current revision of the original text of the OED, so we will make any decisions on format for the full edition at that point, taking into account user demand. In the meantime we publish quarterly updates online, and make the OED second edition available in print and on CD-ROM.
Will the OED ever be finished?
A living language changes all the time. This means that no dictionary is ever really finished. Every three months the entire OED database is republished online, with new words added and existing entries revised, reflecting new evidence and scholarship that has come to light since the original entries were written in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1993, Oxford University Press (OUP) launched a revision programme, in which every word from the original edition of the OED is being researched and revised to reflect changes in meaning, pronunciation, and usage, and also to take into account vast amounts of fresh evidence of its historical context.
Why can’t the OED be free?
The OED is the largest humanities research project in the world. Its 70 editors and researchers constantly update its comprehensive record of the history of English. Unlike many academic projects or language academies elsewhere in the world, the OED receives no public funding or government grants: all costs are met entirely by the publisher, OUP.
OUP recoups some of these costs through subscriptions, mostly from educational institutions such as universities and libraries. Members of those institutions (including almost all UK public libraries) have free access to the OED Online.
Are words removed from ‘the’ dictionary?
Once a word is added to the OED it is never removed; the OED provides a permanent record of its place in the language. The idea is that a puzzled reader encountering an unfamiliar word in, say, a 1920s novel, will be able to find the word in the OED even if it has been little used for decades. As words, or senses of words, fall out of use, the OED marks them as rare or obsolete, but does not remove them.
Although oxforddictionaries.com is a record of current language, it doesn’t generally remove words. As an online resource, it is not constrained by physical print dictionary size and can include an ever-increasing number of words, phrases, and senses.
Our print dictionaries are designed to be as up-to-date as possible, and are frequently revised. Due to space constraints, however, we may remove some words which are perhaps no longer in common currency but where possible, we try to save space by design tweaks rather than removing words.
Do you include rude or slang words in your dictionaries?
Our general adult-level dictionaries cover informal language as well as standard vocabulary, formal words, or the language of a particular subject area, for example. Vulgar words and swear words are as much a part of the language as any other words and we do not exclude them. Our policy is to include these words on the basis of evidence, while alerting the user to the words’ status by marking them clearly as ‘derogatory’ or ‘vulgar’, and sometimes also by usage notes. See further information here.
Slang terms are just as real as any other word, and are included in the dictionary in just the same way. Any that are included are labelled carefully to show that the term in question is considered informal, or to be slang, and that you should choose carefully the circumstances when you might use that term. Slang includes text speak, which tends to be abbreviations of words – which are also just as valid as any other word.
Including a word in a dictionary doesn’t imply that the editors approve of it, just as disliking a word doesn’t exclude it from the language. Lexicographers describe words because they exist, whether we like them or not.
How is your Word of the Year chosen?
We track how the vocabulary of the English language is changing from year to year. Every year, we debate and choose an English Word of the Year that we believe reflects the ethos of the year and has lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.
The Word of the Year need not have been coined within the past 12 months and it does not have to be a word that will stick around for a long time – it is very difficult to predict accurately which words or expressions will have staying power. And while the Word of the Year has great resonance in that year, it doesn’t mean that the word will automatically go into an Oxford dictionary. We need to see evidence that a word or expression will stay the course before including it. The Word of the Year selection team is made up of lexicographers and consultants to the dictionary team, and editorial, marketing, and publicity staff.
What does a lexicographer do?
A lexicographer defines words for inclusion in a dictionary. Depending on the size and type of dictionary, this might also involve giving pronunciations, researching the etymology of a word, and searching for illustrative examples. It also involves drafting from scratch definitions for a word or sense that has never been included before.
How do you know what the definition of a word is?
It’s all about the context. Often we will have an instinct for what a word means because we all use it or it’s familiar, but many times we are defining a word that is unfamiliar. Because we only include words for which our lexicographers can find evidence, it is this evidence which is crucial in helping us pin down the best and most precise definition for a word.
How many words are there in the English language?
This is an impossible question to answer, as it depends on your criteria. For example, the verb run has over 270 main senses in its OED entry. Are you counting this once or 270 times? And what about other parts of speech?
Is there a regulatory body for the English language, like the Académie française for French?
No. During the 17th and 18th centuries, there was considerable interest in the standardization of English. Daniel Defoe proposed the establishment of an academy ‘to polish and refine the English Tongue’ in 1697, and Jonathan Swift produced a volume entitled A Proposal for Correcting, Improving, and Ascertaining the English Tongue in 1712. However, although there were some attempts to found an English Academy, they were unsuccessful.
English is now such a vast language — spoken in so many countries — that it is unlikely that any institution could have the authority or the ability to tell English-speaking people how to speak and write.