It’s all academic for now anyway, they say, because the third edition of the famous dictionary, estimated to fill 40 volumes, is running at least 20 years behind schedule.
Michael Proffitt, the OED’s first new chief editor for 20 years, said the mammoth masterpiece is facing delays because “information overload” from the internet is slowing his compilers.
His team of 70 philologists, including lexicographers, etymologists and pronunciation experts, has been working on the latest version, known as OED3, for the past 20 years.
Michael Proffitt revealed to Country Life magazine that the next edition will not be completed until 2034, and likely only to be offered in an online form because of its gargantuan size.
“A lot of the first principles of the OED stand firm, but how it manifests has to change, and how it reaches people has to change,” said the 48-year-old Edinburgh-born editor.
Work on the new version, currently numbering 800,000 words, has been going on since 1994. The first edition, mooted in 1858 with completion expected in 10 years, took 70 years.
“Although the internet has made access easier,” said Mr Proffitt, “it’s also created the dilemma of information overload.
“In 1989, we looked for five years’ recorded usage before a word entered the dictionary. Now, it’s 10 years because there is so much more material to sift through.