John Simpson, Chief Editor of the OED, to retire

24 April 2013, Oxford, UK:
Oxford University Press today announced that John Simpson, Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), will retire from his post in October 2013. John, whose pioneering leadership has seen the OED embrace the Internet, joined the OED editorial staff in 1976, and became Co-Editor with Edmund Weiner in 1985. He was appointed Chief Editor in 1993, becoming the seventh OED Editor since Sir James Murray’s appointment in 1879. Under John’s editorship, over 60,000 new words and meanings have been added to the OED.

For more than 35 years John has contributed to one of the largest and longest-running scholarly projects during a time of great change, and has been instrumental in ensuring the OED has been at the forefront of innovation. During the 1980s the entire OED text, comprising the First Edition (1884-1928) and its Supplement (1972-86), was digitized as an integrated single text. This laid the foundations for the publication of the twenty-volume Second Edition in 1989 and, under John Simpson’s leadership, the launch of OED Online in 2000 as one of the world’s first major online reference resources.

The OED is a living document that has been growing and changing for 140 years. Recognizing the OED as a record of the evolution of our language, John Simpson instigated the OED’s first comprehensive revision, with every word in the Dictionary scheduled for review to improve the accuracy of definitions, derivations, pronunciations, and historical and contemporary quotations.  During his tenure as editor, the team of editors working on the Third Edition has expanded from 25 to more than 70 staff, revising existing entries and adding new words and senses to the dictionary simultaneously.  This growth is testament to John’s vision of the OED as an ongoing research project and a dynamic document of social history.

Nigel Portwood, Chief Executive of Oxford University Press, said: “John Simpson has made a truly outstanding contribution to the OED, and also to the English language, over the 37 years that he has been at Oxford University Press. As well as devising and overseeing the enormously important revision of the third edition, he has pioneered the use of digital technology in both the production and use of the OED, transforming the dictionary into a resource fit for the 21st century. His achievements put the OED in a fantastic position to continue to thrive and to meet the opportunities in the ever-changing lexical landscape.”

Effective as of 1 November 2013, Michael Proffitt, the current Editorial Project Director for the OED, is appointed as Chief Editor, OED. Michael will be responsible for leading decision-making on style, policy, and strategy.  Philip Durkin, currently Principal Etymologist, OED, is appointed as Deputy Chief Editor alongside existing Deputy Chief Editor Edmund Weiner.

Notes for Editors

Press contact: For more information or to schedule an interview with John Simpson, Michael Proffitt, or Philip Durkin, please contact Nicola Burton.

About John Simpson

John Simpson joined the staff of the Oxford English Dictionary in the summer of 1976 after studying English Literature at the University of York and Medieval Studies at the University of Reading. The first dictionary entry he worked on in 1976 was the noun queen.

He was appointed by Robert Burchfield to work on the Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary and subsequently became Co-Editor of the Second Edition of the Dictionary, which was published to widespread acclaim in 1989. He was appointed Chief Editor in 1993.

John Simpson was born and educated in Cheltenham.  He is a member of the English Faculty at Oxford and of the Philological Society (where the idea of the Dictionary was first mooted in the 1850s), and a Fellow of Kellogg College. He is a world expert on proverbs and slang, and has edited dictionaries on both these subjects for Oxford University Press; he regularly lectures and broadcasts on the English language and on the Dictionary. View John Simpson’s Who’s Who entry here.

About Michael Proffitt

Michael Proffitt was educated in Edinburgh and Oxford, and joined the OED editorial staff in 1989. For a decade he managed the new words programme for the project, editing the third volume of the ‘OED Additions Series’ of supplements in 1997. Between 2003 and 2005 he was seconded to the ‘Pasadena’ project, where he was the editorial lead in the team that developed a ground-breaking new editing system for the OED. Since the system’s launch it has supported the complex set of specialist research and editing tasks that comprise OED’s full-scale revision, as well as handling delivery text for quarterly online publication. In his current role as Project Director, Michael has been responsible for the high-level running of the OED, including managing the large editorial team, planning and prioritizing work, ensuring OED’s high scholarly standards are maintained through a period of structural and technological change, developing strategic initiatives and overseeing their implementation.

About Philip Durkin

Philip Durkin trained as a medievalist at Oxford University, and completed a doctorate on late Middle English prose texts in 1994. He joined the OED in the same year, and became Principal Etymologist in 1999, responsible for leading OED’s team of specialist editors dealing with etymology and the earliest stages of English. His monograph The Oxford Guide to Etymology was published by Oxford University Press in 2009, and a narrative history of loanwords in English will be published by OUP in 2014. He has frequently been an invited speaker at international conferences on lexicography and historical linguistics, and he is also Honorary Treasurer of the Philological Society, Britain’s oldest learned society devoted to the scholarly study of language and languages.

Chief Editors of the OED

As the editorial leader of the project, the Chief Editor upholds the mission and the principles of the project, as well as overseeing text for publication and leading decision making on style and policy. Since James Murray’s appointment by the Press in 1879, there have been just seven Chief Editors and Co-Editors/Deputy Chief Editors: James Murray, Henry Bradley, William Craigie, C. T. Onions, Robert Burchfield, Edmund Weiner, and John Simpson. Brief biographies of the Chief Editors can be found here.

What is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is widely regarded as the accepted authority on the English language. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over 821,000 words, senses, and compounds – past and present – from across the English-speaking world.

As a historical dictionary, the OED is very different from those of current English, in which the focus is on present-day meanings. You’ll still find these in the OED, but you’ll also find the history of individual words, and of the language – traced through over 3 million quotations, from classic literature and specialist periodicals to films scripts and cookery books. View frequently asked questions about the OED here.

The OED is updated quarterly. Find more information about the latest updates to the OED here.

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About Oxford University Press

Oxford University Press, a department of the University of Oxford, furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. The world’s largest and most international university press, Oxford University Press currently publishes more than 6,000 new publications per year, has offices in around fifty countries, and employs some 6,000 people worldwide. It has become familiar to millions through a diverse publishing programme that includes scholarly works in all academic disciplines, bibles, music, school and college textbooks, children’s books, materials for teaching English as a foreign language, business books, dictionaries and reference books, and journals. For more information about Oxford University Press visit www.oup.com.