The OED’s record of appealing to the public for assistance stretches back to the very beginnings of the project over a century and a half ago—to a time when the project not only had nothing to do with Oxford, but wasn’t even a dictionary. In July 1857 a circular was issued by the ‘Unregistered Words Committee’ of the Philological Society of London, which had set up the Committee a few weeks earlier to organize the collection of material to supplement the best existing dictionaries. This circular, which was reprinted in various journals, asked for volunteers to undertake to read particular books and copy out quotations illustrating ‘unregistered’ words and meanings—items not recorded in other dictionaries—that could be included in the proposed supplement. Several dozen volunteers came forward, and the quotations began to pour in.
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