This Day in History (1-Feb-1884) – The first fascicle of the Oxford English Dictionary is published

In 1857, members of the Philological Society rued the lack of a competent dictionary to keep up with the changes since Anglo-Saxon times and the highlight the nuances of the English language.  In 1879, after almost two decades of preparation, the Philological Society tied up with the Oxford University Press to compile and edit the dictionary. A Scottish schoolmaster and an enterprising philologist from London, James Murray was selected to be the editor.

The new dictionary was planned as a four-volume, 6,400-page work that would include all English language vocabulary from the Early Middle English period (1150 AD) onward, plus some earlier words if they had continued to be used into Middle English. It was estimated that the project would be finished in approximately ten years. Five years down the road, when Murray and his colleagues had only reached as far as the word ‘ant’, they realized it was time to reconsider their schedule. Not only are the complexities of the English language formidable, but it also never stops evolving. Murray and his Dictionary colleagues had to keep track of new words and new meanings of existing words at the same time that they were trying to examine the previous seven centuries of the language’s development.

On February 1, 1884, the first fascicle of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles was published. The volume contained all entries starting from A till the word Ant. The entire project took 40 years to complete instead of 10 years. Holding over 400,000 words and phrases in 10 volumes, the full New English Dictionary was complete in April 1928 when the 125th and final fascicle was published.  Sadly, Murray did not live to see the completion of his great work; he died in 1915. However the Dictionary had taken its place as the ultimate authority on the language. Nevertheless, as soon as the original ten volumes of the New English Dictionary were completed, Craigie and Onions, the two editors still involved with the project, began updating it. In 1933, a single-volume Supplement to the Dictionary was published. Also at this time the original Dictionary was reprinted in twelve volumes and the work was formally given its current title, the Oxford English Dictionary.


This Day in History (9-Jul-1877) – Wimbledon tournament begins

In 1868, the All England Club was established outside London. The club was originally founded to promote croquet, another lawn sport, but the growing popularity of tennis led it to incorporate tennis lawns into its facilities. In 1877, the All England Club published an announcement in the weekly sporting magazine The Field that read: “The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, propose to hold a lawn tennis meeting open to all amateurs, on Monday, July 9, and following days. Entrance fee, one pound, one shilling. Please bring own rackets and “shoes without heels”. Balls would be provided by the club gardener.” The All English Club purchased a 25-guinea trophy and drew up formal rules for tennis. It decided on a rectangular court 78 feet long by 27 feet wide; adapted the real tennis method of scoring based on a clock face—i.e., 15, 30, 40, game; established that the first to win six games wins a set; and allowed the server one fault. These decisions, largely the work of club member Dr. Henry Jones, remain part of the modern rules.

Twenty-two men registered for the tournament, but only 21 showed up. Semifinals were held on July 12, but then the tournament was suspended to leave the London sporting scene free for the Eton vs. Harrow cricket match played on Friday and Saturday. The final was scheduled for Monday, July 16, but, in what would become a common occurrence in future Wimbledon tournaments, the match was rained out. It was rescheduled for July 19, and on that day some 200 spectators paid a shilling each to see William Marshall, a Cambridge tennis “Blue,” battle W. Spencer Gore, an Old Harrovian racket player. In a final that lasted only 48 minutes, the Gore dominated with his strong volleying game, crushing Marshall, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

In 1884, the Lady’s Singles was introduced at Wimbledon, and Maud Watson won the first championship. That year, the national men’s doubles championship was also played at Wimbledon for the first time after several years at Oxford. By the early 1900s, Wimbledon had graduated from all-England to all-world status. Mixed doubles and women’s doubles were inaugurated in 1913.