John Simpson
Photo credit: Blooming Photography (www.bloomingphotography.co.uk)

I was Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary for 20 years until 2013. I decided not to haunt the offices as a returning ghost, although I still do some work remotely for the dictionary, helping to add new antedatings (especially those from the 16th and 17th centuries, which I think are important) and generally tidying things up in the background without interfering too much with what the new editors are doing.

I have written about my time at the OED in a memoir called The Word Detective. These days I spend my time writing and researching on words, history, culture, and where they intersect. Amongst other things I now co-edit James Joyce Online Notes and run the Pittville History Works project in Cheltenham. Additionally I’m investigating the lives of paupers in Cheltenham in the early to mid nineteenth century, looking for similarities in their age, gender, origin, life history, and (often most devastatingly) their fate.

See my Wikipedia page for some other background information.

4 thoughts on “Welcome

  1. Hi John
    Your website is most interesting and I was really pleased to now have a photo of you as you are a relative, albeit somewhat distant. So good to know more about you! Julie


  2. Dear Professor Simpson,
    Greetings from Calcutta, India!
    I first came across your name when I purchased the Oxford Proverb Dictionary (the exact title is immaterial here) before I got Professor Mieder’s voluminous work on American proverbs. I was more impressed with your work ( I am not belittling Professor Mieder’s work in any way). I need to consult you and seek your advice in matter pertaining to compilation of a dictionary of proverbs of Bengali. I am facing little problem, which I hope you can sort out. If you agree to give me advice I will write to you about my problems. I am doing this work for long and it is in its final stage of compilation. I am following significant keywords type of dictionary.
    Best regards
    M. K. Nath


  3. I am enjoying “The Word Detective” very much. Although not finished reading, I have a nagging question. Why not compile and publish the newer vocabulary of science, music, business, etc., separately? Why include the words in a general dictionary? I don’t mean with instructions like a manual, just definitions. Like language dictionaries. One would not have to look up each word separately in a computer. These dictionaries could be updated much easier than a giant revision. Would be useful for students and new employees, as well as the general public.


  4. My conversation with you made me change my personal project (not financed by any anybody or any source) of Dictionary of Proverbs of Bengali, which was complete when I was emailing you. Now I decided that it should include literary examples and and I am doing that and I am sure it won’t be complete during my lifetime. And I do not find anybody who will do and finish that. It is a pity for me.


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