Summary of “Inside the OED: can the world’s biggest dictionary survive the internet?”

At one level, few things are simpler than a dictionary: a list of the words people use or have used, with an explanation of what those words mean, or have meant.
In the case of a dictionary such as the OED – which claims to provide a “Definitive” record of every single word in the language from 1000AD to the present day – the question is even larger: can a living language be comprehensively mapped, surveyed and described? Speaking to lexicographers makes one wary of using the word “Literally”, but a definitive dictionary is, literally, impossible.
In 1747, in his “Plan” for the English dictionary that he was about to commence, Samuel Johnson declared he would create nothing less than “a dictionary by which the pronunciation of our language may be fixed, and its attainment facilitated; by which its purity may be preserved, its use ascertained, and its duration lengthened”.
Ninety years after the first edition appeared, the OED – a distant, far bulkier descendant of Johnson’s Dictionary – is currently embarked on a third edition, a goliath project that involves overhauling every entry and adding at least some of those 30,000 missing words, as well as making the dictionary into a fully digital resource.
If OED lexicographers are right that around 7,000 new English words surface annually – a mixture of brand-new coinages and words the dictionary has missed – then in the time you’ve been reading this, perhaps two more words have come into being.
Most people, of course, now never go near a dictionary, but simply type phrases into Wikipedia or rely on Google, which – through a deal with Oxford Dictionaries – offers thumbnail definitions, audio recordings of pronunciations, etymology, a graph of usage over time and translation facilities.
One is a computer professor at the Sapienza University of Rome called Roberto Navigli, who in 2013 soft-launched a site called Babelnet, which aims to be the dictionary to beat all dictionaries – in part by not really being a dictionary at all.
When you’re making a historical dictionary and are required to check each and every resource, then recheck those resources when, say, a corpus of handwritten 17th-century letters comes on stream, the problem of keeping the dictionary up to date expands to even more nightmarish proportions.

The orginal article.