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How long did it take to write the dictionary?

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.

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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