In 2013, the University of Georgia hosted the biennial meeting of the Dictionary Society of North America, an academic society for lexicographers, linguists, and logophiles interested in dictionaries. One of the attendees was Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer from the Oxford English Dictionary, who joined a crew of us for dinner.
We had the restaurant mostly to ourselves, and talk turned shop-wise. We discussed the differences between defining for the OED, which is a historical dictionary with over 600,000 senses, and defining for the Collegiate Dictionary, a relative lightweight at about 230,000 senses. While discussing this, I announced to the table that I had done “take” for the Eleventh Collegiate, and it had taken me about a month. One of the academics at the table shook his head. “Wow.”
Peter piped up. “I revised ‘run,’ ” he said quietly, then smiled. “It took me nine months.”
“The table burst forth in a chorus of “Jesuses!” Nine months! But of course it did. In the OED, “run” has over six hundred separate senses, making the Collegiate’s “take” look like kid stuff.
I lifted my glass of wine from the other end of the table. “Here’s to ‘run,’ ” I said. “May it never come up for revision again in our lifetimes.”
And the conclusion there ought to be:
- Either: Little things mean a lot;
- or, the old hacker’s constant lament: the last 10% of the work takes 90% of the time.
There’s a further oddity about the OED on run. The first headword (because its citation is from 1440, which gives it priority by age, if not beauty) isn’t anything one might expect:
Origin: Of unknown origin. Etymon: rin n.1
Etymology: Origin unknown. Compare later rin n.1 and discussion at that entry.