Oxford English Dictionary
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The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is a dictionary published by the Oxford University Press (OUP), and is generally regarded as the most comprehensive and scholarly dictionary of the English language. As of November 30, 2005 it included about 301,100 main entries, comprising over 350 million printed characters. In addition to the headwords of main entries, it contains 157,000 combinations and derivatives in bold type, and 169,000 phrases and combinations in bold italic type, making a total of 616,500 word-forms. There are 137,000 pronunciations, 249,300 etymologies, 577,000 cross-references, and 2,412,400 illustrative quotations. The latest complete printed version of the dictionary (Second Edition, 1989) contained 21,730 pages, with 291,500 entries.
The policy of the OED is to attempt to record most known uses and variants of a word in all varieties of English, worldwide, past and present. To quote the 1933 Preface:
- The aim of this Dictionary is to present in alphabetical series the words that have formed the English vocabulary from the time of the earliest records [ca. A.D. 740] down to the present day, with all the relevant facts concerning their form, sense-history, pronunciation, and etymology. It embraces not only the standard language of literature and conversation, whether current at the moment, or obsolete, or archaic, but also the main technical vocabulary, and a large measure of dialectal usage and slang.
It went on to clarify,
- Hence we exclude all words that had become obsolete by 1150 [the end of the Old English era] . . . Dialectal words and forms which occur since 1500 are not admitted, except when they continue the history of the word or sense once in general use, illustrate the history of a word, or have themselves a certain literary currency.
The OED is the starting point for much scholarly work regarding words in English. Its choice of the order in which to list variant spellings of headwords is influential on written English in many countries.
The precursor of the OED had no university connection originally; it was conceived in London as a project of the Philological Society, when Richard Chenevix Trench, Herbert Coleridge, and Frederick Furnivall had become dissatisfied with the available dictionaries of English.
In June 1857 they formed an "Unregistered Words Committee" with the goal of finding words not listed and defined in existing dictionaries, but the report that Trench presented that November was not a simple list of unregistered words; it was a study On Some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries. These, he said, were sevenfold:
- Incomplete coverage of obsolete words
- Inconsistent coverage of families of related words
- Incorrect dates for earliest use of words
- History of obsolete senses of words often omitted
- Inadequate distinction between synonyms
- Insufficient use of good illustrative quotations
- Space wasted on inappropriate or redundant content.
Trench suggested that nothing short of a new and truly comprehensive dictionary would do: one that would be based on contributions from a large number of volunteer readers, who would read books, copy out passages illustrating various actual uses of words onto quotation slips, and mail them to the editor. In 1858 the Society agreed in principle to the project: A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (NED).
 The first editors
Trench played a key role in the first months of the project, but his ecclesiastical career meant that he could not give the dictionary the continued attention that it needed over a period that, it was realized, might easily be as long as ten years. So he withdrew, and Herbert Coleridge became the first editor.
On May 12, 1860, Coleridge's plan for the work was published, and the research was set in motion. His home became the first editorial office; he ordered a grid of 54 pigeon-holes in which 100,000 quotation slips could be arrayed. In April 1861, the first sample pages were published. Later that month, Coleridge, aged just 31, died of tuberculosis.
The editorship then fell to Furnivall, who had great enthusiasm and knowledge, but lacked the temperament for such a long-term project. His energetic start saw many assistants recruited and two tons of readers' slips and other materials delivered to his house, and in many cases passed on to these assistants. Furnivall realized that an efficient system of excerpting was needed. He therefore founded in 1864 the Early English Text Society and in 1865 the Chaucer Society, preparing editions of texts of general benefit as well as immediate value to the project. None of this work, however, led to compilation; it was entirely preparatory and lasted for 21 years. There were in the end some 800 voluntary readers. Their enthusiasm was enormous, but in a process which depended on paper and pen alone a major drawback was the often arbitrary choices made by the relatively untrained volunteers regarding what to read and select, what to discard, and how much detail to provide. One prolific contributor, W. C. Minor, was later discovered by Murray to be an inmate of the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. As months and years passed, the project languished. Furnivall began to lose track of his assistants, some of whom assumed that the project was abandoned; others died and their slips were not returned. The entire set of quotation slips for words starting with H was later found in Tuscany; others were assumed to be waste paper and burned as tinder.
 The Oxford editors
At the same time the Society had become concerned about the publication of what it was now clear would have to be an immensely large book. Various publishers had been approached over the years, either to produce sample pages or for the possible publication of the whole, but no agreements had been reached. Those approached included both the Cambridge University Press and the OUP.
Finally, in 1879, after two years of negotiations involving Sweet and Furnivall as well as Murray, the OUP agreed not only to publish the dictionary but also to pay Murray (who by this time was also president of the Philological Society) a salary as editor. They planned on publishing the work at intervals in fascicles, its final form consisting of four volumes of some 6,400 pages. They hoped to finish it in about ten years.
It was Murray who really got the project off the ground and was able to tackle its true scale. Because he had many children, he chose not to use his house in the London suburb of Mill Hill as a workplace; a corrugated iron outbuilding, which he called the "Scriptorium", lined with deal, was erected for him and his assistants. It was provided with 1,029 pigeon-holes for filing the slips of paper, and many bookshelves.
Murray now tracked down and regathered the slips collected by Furnivall, but he found them inadequate because readers had focused on rare and interesting words: he had ten times more quotations for abusion than for abuse. He therefore issued a new appeal for readers, which was widely published in newspapers and distributed in bookshops and libraries. This time readers were specifically asked to report "as many quotations as you can for ordinary words" as well as all of those that seemed "rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar or used in a peculiar way." Murray arranged for the Pennsylvanian philologist, Francis March, to manage the process in North America. Soon 1,000 slips per day were arriving at the Scriptorium, and by 1882 there were 3,500,000 of them.
It was February 1, 1884, 23 years after Coleridge's sample pages, when the first portion, or fascicle, of the Dictionary was published. The full title had now become A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by The Philological Society, and the 352-page volume, covering words from A to Ant, was priced at 12s.6d. The total sales were a disappointing 4,000 copies.It was now clear to the OUP that it would take much too long to complete the work if the editorial arrangements were not revised. Accordingly they supplied additional funding for assistants, but made two new demands on Murray in return. The first was that he move from Mill Hill to Oxford, which he did in 1885. Again he had a Scriptorium built on his property (to appease a neighbour, this one had to be half-buried in the ground), and the Post Office installed a pillar box directly in front of his house.
Murray was more resistant to the second requirement: that if he could not meet the desired schedule, then he must hire a second senior editor who would work in parallel, outside his supervision, on words from different parts of the alphabet. He did not want to share the work, and felt that it would eventually go faster as he gained experience. But it did not, and eventually Philip Gell of the OUP forced his hand. Henry Bradley, whom Murray had hired as his assistant in 1884, was promoted and began working independently in 1888, in a room at the British Museum in London. In 1896 Bradley moved to Oxford, working at the university itself.
Gell continued to harass both editors with the commercial goal of containing costs and speeding production, to the point where the project seemed likely to collapse; but once this was reported in the press, public opinion backed the editors. Gell was then dismissed, and the university reversed his policies on containing costs. If the editors felt that the Dictionary would have to grow larger than had been anticipated, then it would; it was an important enough work that the time and money necessary to finish it properly should be spent.
But neither Murray nor Bradley lived to see it done. Murray died in 1915, having been responsible for words starting with A-D, H-K, O-P and T, or nearly half of the finished dictionary; Bradley died in 1923, having done E-G, L-M, S-Sh, St and W-We. By this time two additional editors had also been promoted from assistant positions to work independently, so the work continued without too much trouble. William Craigie, starting in 1901, was responsible for N, Q-R, Si-Sq, U-V and Wo-Wy; whereas the OUP had previously felt that London was too far from Oxford for the editors to work there, after 1925 Craigie's work on the dictionary was done in Chicago, where he had accepted a professorship. The fourth editor was C. T. Onions, who, starting in 1914, covered the remaining ranges, Su-Sz, Wh-Wo and X-Z.
 The fascicles
By early 1894 a total of 11 fascicles had been published, or about one per year: four for A-B, five for C, and two for E. Of these, eight were 352 pages long, while the last one in each group was shorter to end at the letter break (which would eventually become a volume break). At this point it was decided to publish the work in smaller and more frequent installments: once every three months, beginning in 1895, there would now be a fascicle of 64 pages, priced at 2s.6d. If enough material was ready, 128 or even 192 pages would be published together. This pace was maintained until World War I forced reductions in staff. Each time enough consecutive pages were available, the same material was also published in the original larger fascicles.
Also in 1895, the title Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was first used. It then appeared only on the outer covers of the fascicles; the original title was still the official one and was used everywhere else.
 The First Edition and the first Supplement
It had been planned to publish the New English Dictionary in ten volumes, starting with A, C, D, F, H, L, O, Q, Si, and Ti; but as the project proceeded, the later volumes became larger and larger, and, while the full 1928 edition officially retained the intended numbering, Volumes IX and X were published as two "half-volumes" each, split at Su and V respectively. The entire edition was also available as a set of 20 half-volumes, with two choices of binding. The price was 50 or 55 guineas (£52.10s or £57.15s) depending on the format and binding. The dictionary covered 414,825 words backed by five million quotations, of which some two million were actually printed in the dictionary text.
It had been 44 years since the publication of A-Ant and, of course, the English language had continued to develop and change. So by this time the early volumes were noticeably out of date. The solution was for the same teams to produce a Supplement, listing all words and senses that had developed since the relevant pages were first printed; this also gave the opportunity to correct any errors or omissions. Purchasers of the 1928 edition were promised a free copy of the supplement when it appeared.
The supplement was again produced by two editors working in parallel. Craigie, now being in the United States, did most of the research on American English usages; he also edited L-R and U-Z, while Onions did A-K and S-T. The work took another five years.
In 1933 the entire dictionary was reissued, now officially under the title of Oxford English Dictionary for the first time. The volumes after the first six were adjusted to equalize them somewhat and eliminate the "half-volume" numbering: the main dictionary now consisted of 12 volumes, numbered as such, and starting at A, C, D, F, H, L, N, Poyesye, S, Sole, T, and V. The supplement was included as the 13th volume. The price of the dictionary was reduced to 20 guineas (£21).
 The second Supplement and the Second Edition
In 1933 Oxford University had finally put the Dictionary to rest; all work ended, and the quotation slips went into storage. But of course the English language continued to change, and by the time 20 years had passed, the Dictionary was outdated.
There were three possible ways to update it. The cheapest would be to leave the existing work alone and simply compile a new supplement, of perhaps one or two volumes; but then anyone looking for a word or sense and unsure of its age would have to look in three different places. The existing supplement could be combined with the new material to form a larger supplement, or, the most convenient choice for the Dictionary user, would be for the entire dictionary to be re-edited and retypeset, with each change included in its proper alphabetical place; but of course this would be most expensive, with perhaps 15 volumes to be produced.
The OUP chose the middle approach, replacing the supplement with a new one. Robert Burchfield was hired in 1957 to edit it; Onions, who turned 84 that year, was still able to make some contributions as well. Burchfield emphasized the inclusion of modern-day language, and through the supplement the dictionary was expanded to include a wealth of new words from the burgeoning fields of science and technology, as well as popular culture and colloquial speech. Burchfield also broadened the scope to include developments of the language in English-speaking regions beyond the United Kingdom, including North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and the Caribbean. The work was expected to take seven to ten years. It actually took 29 years, by which time the new supplement (OEDS) had grown to four volumes, starting with A, H, O and Sea. They were published in 1972, 1976, 1982, and 1986 respectively, bringing the complete dictionary to 16 volumes, or 17 counting the first supplement.
But by this time it was clear that the full text of the Dictionary now belonged online. Achieving this would still require retyping it once, but thereafter it would always be accessible for computer searching — as well as for whatever new editions of the dictionary might be desired, starting with an integration of the supplementary volumes and the main text. Preparation for this began in 1983 and editorial work started the following year under the administrative direction of Timothy J. Benbow, and with John A. Simpson and Edmund S. C. Weiner as co-editors.
And so the New Oxford English Dictionary (NOED) project began. More than 120 keyboarders of International Computaprint Corporation in Tampa, Florida, and Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, USA, started keying in over 350,000,000 characters, their work checked by 55 proof-readers in England. But, retyping the text alone was not sufficient; all the information represented by the complex typography of the original dictionary had to be retained, which was done by marking up the content in SGML; and a specialized search engine and display software were also needed to access it. Under a 1985 agreement, some of this software work was done at the University of Waterloo, Canada, at the Centre for the New Oxford English Dictionary, led by F.W. Tompa and Gaston Gonnet; this search technology went on to be the basis for Open Text Corporation. Computer hardware, database and other software, development managers, and programmers for the project were donated by the British subsidiary of IBM; the colour syntax-directed editor for the project, LEXX, was written by Mike Cowlishaw of IBM. The University of Waterloo, in Canada, volunteered to design the database. A. Walton Litz, an English professor at Princeton University who served on the Oxford University Press advisory council, told Paul Gray for TIME (March 27 1989), "I've never been associated with a project, I've never even heard of a project, that was so incredibly complicated and that met every deadline."
By 1989 the NOED project had achieved its primary goals, and the editors, working online, had successfully combined the original text, Burchfield's supplement, and a small amount of newer material into a single unified dictionary. The word "new" was again dropped from the name, and the Second Edition of the OED, or the OED2, was published. (The first edition retronymically became the OED1.)
The OED2 was printed in 20 volumes. For the first time there was no attempt to start them on letter boundaries, and they were made roughly equal in size. The 20 volumes started with A, B.B.C., Cham, Creel, Dvandva, Follow, Hat, Interval, Look, Moul, Ow, Poise, Quemadero, Rob, Ser, Soot, Su, Thru, Unemancipated, and Wave.
Although the content of the OED2 is mostly just a reorganization of the earlier corpus, the retypesetting provided an opportunity for two long-needed format changes. The headword of each entry was no longer capitalized, allowing the user to readily see those words that actually require a capital letter. And whereas Murray had devised his own notation for pronunciation, there being no standard one at the time, the OED2 adopted today's International Phonetic Alphabet. Unlike the earlier edition, all foreign alphabets except Greek were transliterated.
When the print version of the second edition was published in 1989, the response was enthusiastic. The author Anthony Burgess declared it "the greatest publishing event of the century," as quoted by Dan Fisher for the Los Angeles Times (March 25 1989). TIME dubbed the book "a scholarly Everest," and Richard Boston, writing for the London Guardian (March 24 1989), called it "one of the wonders of the world."
New material was published in the Oxford English Dictionary Additions Series, two small volumes in 1993, and a third in 1997, bringing the dictionary to a total of 23 volumes. Each of the supplements added about 3,000 new definitions. However, no more Additions volumes are planned, and it is not expected that any part of the Third Edition, or OED3, will be printed in fascicles.
 The Compact Editions
Meanwhile, in 1971, the full content of the 13-volume OED1 from 1933 was reprinted as a Compact Edition of just two volumes. This was achieved by photographically reducing each page to ½ its original linear dimensions, so that four original pages were shown on each page ("4-up" format). The two volumes started at A and P, with the Supplement included at the end of the second volume.
The Compact Edition was sold in a case that also included, in a small drawer, a magnifying glass to help users read the reduced type. Many copies were sold through book clubs, which distributed them cheaply to their members.
In 1987 the second Supplement was published as a third volume in the same Compact Edition format. For the OED2, in 1991, the Compact Edition format was changed to ⅓ of the original linear dimensions (9-up), requiring stronger magnification but also allowing the entire dictionary to be published in a single volume for the first time. Even after these volumes had been published, though, book club offers commonly continued to feature the two-volume 1971 Compact Edition. It is common to read comments praising this earlier edition for its better readability (larger text) and convenience (two smaller volumes), besides the quality of the case and the existence of the magnifying glass drawer in it.
 The electronic versions
Now that the text of the dictionary was digitized and online, it could also be published on CD-ROM. The text of the First Edition was made available in 1988. Afterward, three versions of the second edition were issued. Version 1 (1992) was identical in content to the printed Second Edition, and the CD itself was not copy-protected. Version 2 (1999) had some additions to the corpus, and updated software with improved searching features, but had clumsy copy-protection that made it difficult to use and would even cause the program to deny use to OUP staff in the middle of demonstrations of the product. Version 3 (2002) has additional words and software improvements, though its copy-protection is still as unforgiving as that of the earlier version, and it is available for Microsoft Windows only.
Single-click access to Oxford dictionaries is also available with Babylon Translator, which provides access to Concise Oxford English Dictionary and Thesaurus with 240,000 definitions and 365,000 synonyms and antonyms .
In March 2000, the Oxford English Dictionary Online (OED Online) became available to subscribers. The online database contains the entire OED2 and is updated quarterly with revisions that will be included in the OED3 (see below). The online edition is the most up-to-date one available.
As the price for an individual to use this edition, even after a reduction in 2004, is £195 or $295 US every year, most subscribers are large organizations such as universities. Some of them do not use the Oxford English Dictionary Online portal and have legally downloaded the entire database into their organization's computers. Some public libraries and companies have subscribed as well, including, in March and April 2006, most public libraries in England and Wales and New Zealand and any person belonging to a library subscribing to the service is able to use the service from their own home.
A slightly more appealing method of payment was also introduced in 2004, offering residents of North or South America the opportunity to pay $29.95 US a month to access the online site.
 The Third Edition
The planned Third Edition, or OED3, is intended as a nearly complete overhaul of the work. Each word is being examined and revised to improve the accuracy of the definitions, derivations, pronunciations, and historical quotations--a task requiring the efforts of a staff consisting of more than 300 scholars, researchers, readers, and consultants, and projected to cost about $55 million. The end result is expected to double the overall length of the text. The style of the dictionary will also be changing slightly. The original text was more literary, in that most of the quotations were taken from novels, plays, and other literary sources. The new edition, however, will make reference to all manner of printed resources, such as cookbooks, wills, technical manuals, specialist journals, and rock lyrics. The pace of inclusion of new words has been increased as well, to the rate of about 4,000 per year.
As of 2005, John Simpson is the Chief Editor. Since the first work by each editor tends to require more revision than his later, more polished work, it was decided to balance out this effect by performing the early, and perhaps itself less polished, work of this revision pass at a letter other than A. Accordingly, the main work of the OED3 has been proceeding in sequence from the letter M. When the OED Online was launched in March 2000, it included the first batch of revised entries (officially described as draft entries), stretching from M to mahurat, and successive sections of text have since been released on a quarterly basis; by September 2006, the revised section had reached Pomak. As new work is done on words in other parts of the alphabet, this is included in each quarterly release.
New content can be viewed through the OED Online or on the periodically updated CD-ROM edition. It is possible that the OED3 will never be printed conventionally, but will be available only electronically. That will be a decision for the future, when it is nearer completion.
The production of the new edition takes full advantage of computers, particularly since the June 2005 inauguration of the whimsically named "Perfect All-Singing All-Dancing Editorial and Notation Application", or Pasadena. With this XML-based system, the attention of lexicographers can be directed more to matters of content than to presentation issues such as the numbering of definitions. The new system has also simplified the use of the quotations database, and enabled staff in New York to work directly on the Dictionary in the same way as their Oxford-based counterparts.
Other important computer uses include internet searches for evidence of current usage, and e-mail submissions of quotations by readers and the general public.
Wordhunt was a 2005 appeal to the general public for help in providing citations for 50 selected recent words, and produced antedatings for many. The results were reported in a BBC TV series, Balderdash and Piffle. Thus, the OED’s small army of devoted readers continue to contribute quotations; the department currently receives about 200,000 a year.
The OED lists British spellings for headwords first (for example, labour and centre), followed by other variants (labor, center, etc.). OUP policy also dictates that -ize suffixes be favoured (instead of -ise) for many words more commonly ending in -ise in British English, even if the root is Latin rather than Greek. Examples are realize vs realise and globalization vs globalisation. Their rationale for this policy is partly on the linguistic basis that the suffix derives mainly from the Greek suffix -izo. They state however that -ze is also an Americanism in the fact that the -ze suffix has crept into words where it did not originally belong, as with analyse (British English), which is spelt analyze in American English . Read more about -ize vs -ise.
The sentence "The group analysed labour statistics published by the organization" is an example of OUP practice. This spelling (which can be indicated by the registered IANA language tag en-GB-oed) is used by the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Organization for Standardization and other organizations, as well as many British-based academic publications, such as Nature, the Biochemical Journal and The Times Literary Supplement.
- J. R. R. Tolkien was once an employee of the OED (researching etymologies in the range from Waggle to Warlock), and gently parodied the four principal editors as "The Four Wise Clerks of Oxenford" in his story Farmer Giles of Ham.
- Julian Barnes was also an employee, but he did not like the work.
- The early modern English prose of Sir Thomas Browne is the most frequently quoted source of neologisms.
- William Shakespeare is the most-quoted writer, and his Hamlet the most-quoted work.
- George Eliot (real name Mary Ann Evans) is the most-quoted female.
- Various versions of the Bible are collectively the most-quoted work, while the most-quoted single work is Cursor Mundi.
- One of the most prolific early contributors as a reader, Dr. W. C. Minor, was at the time imprisoned in a criminal lunatic asylum. He invented his own system of tracking quotations so he could send in his slips only when the editors requested, or were ready to use them.
- Tim Bray, co-creator of the Extensible Markup Language (XML), credits the OED as the inspiration behind the development of the next-generation web language.
- The word with the longest entry is the verb set. The OED describes over 430 senses of this word, and defines them in an entry of approximately 60,000 words.
- It would take one person 120 years to type the 59 million words in the OED second edition and 60 years for it to be proofread, and 540 MB to store it electronically. 
- The taboo words fuck and cunt did not appear in any widely-consulted dictionary of the English language from 1795 to 1965. Their first appearance in the OED was in 1972.
- While huge, the OED is not the largest dictionary; that distinction goes to the Dutch Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal, which had similar goals, but took about twice as long to complete.
 See also
- Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
- New Oxford Dictionary of English
- Concise Oxford Dictionary
- Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (intended for non-native speakers of English)
- Canadian Oxford Dictionary
- New Oxford American Dictionary
- Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology
- The Century Dictionary
- Oxford English Corpus
 Further reading
- Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, edited by John Simpson and Edmund Weiner, Clarendon Press, 1989, twenty volumes, hardcover, ISBN 0-19-861186-2
- Caught in the Web of Words: J. A. H. Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary, K. M. Elisabeth Murray, Oxford University Press and Yale University Press, 1977; new edition 2001, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-08919-8 (trade paperback).
- Empire of Words, The Reign of the Oxford English Dictionary, John Willinsky, Princeton University Press, 1995, hardcover, ISBN 0-691-03719-1
- The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, Simon Winchester, Oxford University Press, 2003, hardcover, ISBN 0-19-860702-4
- (UK title) The Surgeon of Crowthorne / (US title) The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary, Simon Winchester; see The Surgeon of Crowthorne article for full details of the various editions.
- Lost for Words: The Hidden History of the Oxford English Dictionary, Lynda Mugglestone, Yale University Press, 2005, hardcover, ISBN 0-300-10699-8
- The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary, Peter Gulliver, Jeremy Marshall, and Edmund Weiner, Oxford University Press, 2006, hardcover, ISBN 0-19-861069-6
For a wider view of the history of dictionaries see:
- Green, Jonathon, Chasing the Sun: Dictionary Makers and the Dictionaries They Made, Jonathan Cape, 1996, ISBN 0-224-04010-3 (hardback).
 External links
- The Oxford English Dictionary's official website
- Seiko Pocket Oxford English Dictionary: The Pocket Oxford English Dictionary
- Their page on Tolkien
- AskOxford Compact Oxford English Dictionary Search
- Examining the OED: Charlotte Brewer's analysis of the principles and practices used by OED editorsde:Oxford English Dictionary
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