Blog - Proofreading and Copy Editing

The dictionary: an essential proofreading tool

Let’s start by taking a look at that most essential of a proofreader’s tools (apart from the red pen, of course) – the dictionary!

The dictionary that we use at the Proofreading Agency – and the one I always recommend to proofreaders – is the Oxford Dictionary of English. This handy, single-volume dictionary is full of brand-new words and is written to reflect the way that English is actually used: it aims to be descriptive, rather than purely prescriptive!

Did you know that the first major dictionary of the English language was compiled by Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century? This remained the definitive dictionary of English until the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published. The first OED dictionary was commissioned in 1879, but not published until almost 50 years later!

Here are some interesting facts about the OED:

  • Members of the public contributed to the first edition by sending in words and definitions on ‘slips’ – these were compiled into the first ‘corpus’ or wordbank of English
  • The dictionary’s editor had 11 children, who slaved away on the dictionary for the first five years – but weren’t paid anything for their efforts
  • JRR Tolkien worked on the second edition of the OED – editing the Ws from ‘Waggle’ to ‘Warlock’

The OED is a labour of love: at no point in its history has it made a profit.

So whether you’re an editor, proofreader, or writer of any kind, next time you reach for your dictionary spare a thought for the hard work of the lexicographers who’ve laboured throughout the past two hundred years to bring you a truly indispensable reference guide.

For more information and resources for proofreaders, visit the Proofreading Agency’s website.

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