Word Usage, From Cradle to Grave
'You can get a sense of the Oxford English Dictionary’s intellectual capaciousness just by turning the pages in any of the enormous volumes and casting your eye down the extraordinarily detailed entries. What made the dictionary revolutionary when it appeared, and makes it revolutionary still, is that every definition it contains is based on a study of the empirical data: those masses of original quotation slips that recorded a word’s use in real historical sources from 1150 to the present day. From these scraps of paper (eventually numbering more than five million for the first edition) the lexicographers constructed their picture of the history of a word’s usage from the beginning of its life to its end—from cradle to grave, as they themselves said.'
--from an article on the celebrated dictionary in the current issue of The Wilson Quarterly.