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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