At an unusual book launch Peter Ashby, a local entrepreneur, read the definition of the word ‘Abbreviator’ from the first volume of a rather special book. It was an early copy of the Oxford English Dictionary which Peter had been given whilst transforming the dictionary into a compact version via microfiche. He had in turn generously given the many volume Dictionary to the nearby Frewen Club and had borrowed back the first volume for the evening.
The definition that he read from the Abbreviator entry was ‘An officer of the court of Rome, appointed...to draw up the Pope’s briefs’ possibly proving that the ardent compilers of the great Dictionary had a sense of humour – or a blind eye!
Rob Walters, local guide and author, in launching his new book on the history of
the Dictionary explained that the great book took nearly seventy years to complete.
It was issued in parts by the Oxford University Press which took over publication
in 1879 and ‘Abbreviator’ appeared in the very first section to be issued covering
It was James Murray, a self-
Rob explained that the Dictionary had its true beginnings in 1857, but was not completed until 1928 with the publication of the first edition. However, this was not the end. The voluntary readers who scanned the thousands of books for quotations on which the dictionary was based continued their work through the near seventy years of compilation and so there was a backlog of new words leading to a supplement issued in 1933. And this is the story of the Dictionary’s life – the work never ends as new words are added and old definitions updated. Fortunately updating is much easier nowadays and the third edition of the Dictionary exists entirely on the Internet.
The evening finished with a rousing rendition of the ‘The Dictionary Song” by local musician and composer, Peter Madams, lead singer of the much missed Oxford group Veda Park.
The book is entitled A Concise History of the Oxford English Dictionary you can buy it here. The launch was held on 21st March 2016 at the St Aldates’ Tavern.