It took the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary five years just to reach the word “ant.”
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It took the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary five years just to reach the word “ant.”

If you think reading the dictionary sounds exhausting, try writing one — largely by hand, no less. That’s what the editors of the original Oxford English Dictionary had to do after the Philological Society of London deemed existing dictionaries “incomplete and deficient” in 1857. They had their work cut out for them: In 1884, five years after beginning what they thought would be a decade-long project, principal editor James Murray and his team reached an important milestone — the word “ant.” That year, they began publishing A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (as it was then known) in installments called fascicles, with the 10th and final fascicle seeing the light of day in 1928.

“Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien worked on the OED.
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Incorrect.
It's a Fact
Before penning his epic trilogy and inventing entire languages, J.R.R. Tolkien was on staff at the Oxford English Dictionary from 1919 to 1920. He was assigned to the letter "W" and said he "learned more in those two years than in any other equal period of my life."

To say that the project’s scope was larger than anticipated would be putting it mildly. What was intended as 6,400 pages spread across four volumes ballooned into a 10-volume tome containing 400,000 words and phrases. The dictionary took so long to finish, in fact, that Murray died 13 years before its completion.

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Numbers Don’t Lie
Words in 1989’s 20-volume OED
171,476
Words added to Dictionary.com in 2020
650
Languages learned by Noah Webster before writing the first U.S. dictionary
26
Box-office gross of “The Professor and the Madman,” the 2019 drama about James Murray (starring Mel Gibson)
$5.1 million
The last word in the Oxford English Dictionary is "_______."
The last word in the Oxford English Dictionary is "Zyzzyva."
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Think Twice
Oxford University Press chose an emoji as its 2015 Word of the Year.

Next time someone says that emojis have no place in serious communication, feel free to remind them that no less an authority than Oxford University Press (which publishes the OED) chose one as its 2015 Word of the Year. 😂, or Face With Tears of Joy, was so honored because it was the most widely used emoji that year — it accounted for 20% of all emojis used in the U.K. and 17% across the pond in the U.S. That year also saw the total use of the word “emoji” more than triple from the year prior. As for the other 2015 Word of the Year finalists, eight came close to nabbing the title: “ad blocker,” “Brexit,” “Dark Web,” “lumbersexual,” “on fleek,” “refugee,” “sharing economy,” and “they.”

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