The scheme of ‘a completely new English Dictionary’ was conceived in 1858, chiefly as the result of the reading of two papers ‘On some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries’ by Dr R. C. Trench to the Philological Society in 1857. Herbert Coleridge (1830–61), and after him Dr F. J. Furnivall, were the first editors. Their work consisted mainly in the collection of materials, and it was not until Dr J. A. H. Murray took the matter up in 1878 that the preparation of the dictionary began to take active form. The first part (A–Ant) was published in 1884 and it was finished in 1928, 70 years from the inception of the undertaking. At Murray's death, T had been reached. His co‐editors were Dr H. Bradley (from 1888), Dr W. A. Craigie (from 1901), and Dr C. T. Onions (from 1914).
The essential feature of the dictionary is its historical method, by which the meaning and form of the words are traced from their earliest appearance on the basis of an immense number of quotations, collected by more than 800 voluntary workers. The dictionary contains a record of 414,825 words, whose history is illustrated by 1,827,306 quotations. A supplement of 876 pages appeared in 1933. In 1957 work began, under the editorship of R. W. Burchfield, on the new supplement, superseding that of 1933: A Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary contains a record of approximately 120,000 words. Its four volumes appeared in 1972, 1976, 1982, and 1986. The original title of the main work was ‘A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles’ (abbreviated as NED). The second edition, ed. J. Simpson and E. Weiner, was published in 1989.