J. A. H. Murray

The Vocabulary of a widely diffused and highly cultivated living language is not a fixed quantity circumscribed by definite limits… there is absolutely no defining line in any direction: the circle of the English language has a well-defined centre but no discernible circumference.
How many words are there in the English language? There is no single sensible answer to this question. It’s impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it’s so hard to decide what actually counts as a word.
It embraces not only the standard language of literature and conversation, whether current at the moment, or obsolete, or archaic, but also the main technical vocabulary, and a large measure of dialectal usage and slang.

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  1. shinichi

    The English Language
    Volume 2
    Essays by Linguistics and Men of Letters
    1858-1964

    5
    J. A. H. Murray
    (1837-1915)

    The New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, also known as Murray’s Dictionary, after the name of its chief editor, is the most comprehensive source of information about the history of our vocabulary that we have, and its information about contemporary forms and meanings is surpassed only by the recent Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.
    … A corrected edition and supplement was brought out in 1933, when the title was changed to the Oxford English Dictionary (or OED),, and a second supplement is in preparation. In the Introduction, Murray presents the principles on which the Dictionary was based.

    ‘General Explanations’

    (A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, vol. I, 1888)

    The Vocabulary

    The Vocabulary of a widely diffused and highly cultivated living language is not a fixed quantity circumscribed by definite limits.

    … there is absolutely no defining line in any direction: the circle of the English language has a well-defined centre but no discernible circumference.

    How many words are there in the English language? There is no single sensible answer to this question. It’s impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it’s so hard to decide what actually counts as a word.

    It embraces not only the standard language of literature and conversation, whether current at the moment, or obsolete, or archaic, but also the main technical vocabulary, and a large measure of dialectal usage and slang.

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