Imagining the ‘super-dictionary’

In a 2011 lecture, David Crystal, a leading authority on the English language, spoke about the possibility of a ‘super-dictionary’ of English – a dictionary that would include every word in global English. Such a dictionary was, he acknowledged, a ‘crazy, stupid idea’, but an idea that seemed somehow possible in the electronic age, where the constraints of print no longer apply.

Dictionaries in the mould of Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) and James Murray’s Oxford English Dictionary (OED, first volume 1884) have shaped our understanding of what a dictionary is. Dictionaries of the twentieth century, from Webster’s to the Chambers Dictionary to the Macquarie Dictionary to the Australian Oxford Dictionary, have followed in their footsteps.

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Amanda Laugesen

Amanda Laugesen

Amanda Laugesen is a historian, lexicographer, and Director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre (ANDC), Australian National University. She is the author of several books and many articles on aspects of Australian and US History. Her book on Australian soldier slang of World War I is due out from Oxford University Press later this year. The ANDC researches Australian English, edits Australia’s Oxford Dictionaries, and blogs regularly at www.ozwords.org. This is the first in a new series of bimonthly columns on language.

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