How to Build a Language: Inside the Oxford English Dictionary – Audio Long Reads
The New StatesmanPippa Bailey has a long-standing interest in the OED, both professionally and personally: she and the team of sub-editors she leads rely on the world’s most comprehensive dictionary to answer questions of meaning and of spelling. So it was a labor of love when she visited her Oxford headquarters to meet the lexicographers whose decisions – about which words are added, revised or made obsolete – help shape the world’s most spoken language.
In this richly documented and beautifully observed deep dive, Bailey charts the course of the dictionary since the mid-19efrom the origins of the century to its latest update of “new words” (“terf”, “stealthing” and “sportswashing” were among the June 2022 inclusions). She visits the archives and listens to the specialists who are hard at work on the third edition of the dictionary – work which began in 1994 (and the OED is still only half revised). Should they trace the first written use of “burner telephone” to Thread, or further in a 1996 rap by Kingpin Skinny Pimp? Should they add the phrase “high traffic”? And why is it so hard to tell the origin story of the “bucket list”?
This article first appeared on newstatesman.com on June 22 and in the magazine on June 24, 2022. You can read the text version here.
Written by Pippa Bailey and read by Emma Haslett.
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