Home Programs Blog Meet Our Team Podcast Press Partner Login Login

The ABC's of Small Business

Your business is in a constant state of evolution. Workflows can be improved; sales increased; processes honed; client experiences enhanced. Vertically. Horizontally. Improvement is a continuous pursuit.  

The history of the Oxford English Dictionary is an ideal example of this mindset. Googling a word’s meaning or – gulp – leafing through an actual paperbound dictionary is somewhat of a luxury. When the Philological Society of London members decided, in 1857, that existing English language dictionaries were incomplete and deficient, they called for a complete re-examination of the language. While they knew they were embarking on an ambitious project, they didn’t realize the full extent of the work they initiated or how long it would take to achieve the final result.

The project proceeded slowly after the Society’s first grand statement of purpose. Eventually, in 1879, the Society agreed with the Oxford University Press and James A. H. Murray to begin work on a New English Dictionary (as the Oxford English Dictionary was then known).

If you think reading the dictionary sounds exhausting, try writing one (largely by hand, no less, on voluminous index cards). That’s what the original Oxford English Dictionary editors 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 a significant 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 finally seeing the light of day in 1928. Do the math. Always improving!

To say that the project’s scope was more extensive than anticipated would be putting it mildly. What was intended as 6,400 pages spread across four volumes ballooned into a ten-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.

An exciting aspect of a living language is that it continually changes. This means that no dictionary is ever really finished. After fifty years of work on the first edition, the editors must have found this fact exhausting to contemplate.

Small business owners need to get accustomed to this reality of perpetual optimization.


89% Complete