OED is often the answer to the crossword clue
[Multivolume ref.] or [British ref. work]

professor and the madman cheats on the times crossword quote line gibson crosswordese.info
Screenshot from The Professor and the Madman, a repulsive and pathetic adaptation of what was in fact an enjoyable book about the creation of the OED. Never mind that we’re supposed to believe Gibson as one of the great philological scholars of all time. Can you tell what else is wrong with this picture–specifically about his line of dialog? Answer at bottom of post. image by crosswordese

Okay, okay, we’re all more or less familiar with the the Oxford English Dictionary, the OED, and whether it’s a [Ref. work with more than 300,000 entries] (according to the New York Times in 2007) or a [Source with 600,000 words] (as per Inkwell in 2013), it’s huge.

For the record, 600,000 is, of course, “more than 300,000, but the disparity seems to be that as of 2005, the lexicon included about 301,000 main entries and about 616,000 word-forms.

There also seems to be some question about how the OED ends. According to a 2012 Washington Post clue, [“Zyxt” is its final entry: Abbr.]. But a 2018 clue in The New York Times maintained [It ends with “zyzzyva,” in brief].

Unfortunately, my two-volume Compact Edition (highly recommended) isn’t much help on the matter, as it’s a 1981 printing of the 1971 edition. Mine ends in ZYMURGY, the [Brewmaster’s science] since it’s [The chemistry of fermentation].

That reminds me, a clue in the Wall Street Journal described the OED as [Ref. work with over 45,000 obsolete words], a clue that made me think of those giant old crossword answer dictionaries.

OED crossword 20 vol volume reference ref big work lexicon clue answer stanley newman million word dictionary
image via Bookshop
OED crossword 20 vol volume reference ref big work lexicon clue answer stanley newman million word dictionary 2nd second edition
image via Bookshop

Anyway, some of the more common and interesting clues for OED include:

  • Ref. with 20 volumes
  • U.K. lexicon
  • J.R.R. Tolkien did some research for it
  • Lexicon from a British uni
  • Ref. work in which the verb “set” has a 60,000-word entry
  • Reference bk. whose first edition took over 40 years to publish in full

  • Masterwork in philology, for short
  • 130-lb.-plus ref.
  • Its “concise” version has almost 1,700 pages: Abbr.
  • Its 1971 ed. came with a magnifying glass
  • Bks. with millions of quotations
  • Its second ed. contains about 59 million words

And then there are the many wonderful clues that use the answer of OED to report on the state of the language (even if it’s a little redundant to do so in a crossword puzzle, which reflects usage trends much faster and more idiomatically–though admittedly much less authoritatively). Here are some recent highlights:

  • Ref. that added “cruciverbalist” (a person who does crosswords) in 2006
  • Where “♥” has appeared since 2011, in brief
  • Ref. whose 2017 Word of the Year was “youthquake”
  • “Mansplain” was added to it in Jan. 2018
  • Ref. that added “binge-watch” in 2018
  • Ref. selecting “toxic” as the 2018 Word of the Year
  • Its Jun. 2019 additions include “bae” and “yeesh”
  • Ref. that added “xoxo” in 2019
  • Its 2019 Word of the Year was “climate emergency” (Abbr.)
  • “Awesomesauce” was added to it in 2020: Abbr.
  • Ref. that added “safe space” in 2020
  • Ref. whose recent updates include “chillax” and “whatev”

The OED is the [Subj. of “The Professor and the Madman”] and [Subj. of the 2003 book “The Meaning of Everything”], both by Simon Winchester.

OED crossword 20 vol volume reference ref big work lexicon clue answer simon winchester professor and the madman mad man
OED crossword 20 vol volume reference ref big work lexicon clue answer simon winchester meaning of everything

Which brings us to the movie…

Yes, it’s time to talk about the adaptation of The Professor and the Madman.

You know what, never mind. I was going to rant about that piece of garbage, but it’s not worth it.

Anyway, back to that screenshot at the top of this post. See the problem?

Well, despite the film’s supposed interest in telling the story of a men who cared about how and when words entered English, Gibson here uses the term “crossword.” It’s an interesting moment, since Gibson’s character, James Murray, didn’t even include the word in his dictionary. Of course, the “crossword” wasn’t invented until 1913, which was probably about twenty years after that scene would have taken place.

Then again, the word that comes to mind when I think of that movie was in Murray’s OED, surprisingly, though it hasn’t (yet) appeared in a crossword: shonde.