Professor Charlotte Brewer

Fellow and Tutor in English

University Lecturer

MA Toronto, MA DPhil
Phone number: 
01865 279410

(On research leave in 2017-18). My main research interest is in the history and editing of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and associated matters, e.g. what the dictionary tells us about the language of individual writers (e.g. Shakespeare, Austen), and how it reflects the culture of the 19th-21stcenturies (the language of politics, sexuality, gender etc). I was educated at Lewes Priory Comprehensive School in East Sussex and then at St Anne's College, Oxford. I’ve been a fellow at Hertford since 1990, working half time over 1998-2004 to look after my children, and previously held a lectureship at the University of Leeds and fellowships at two other colleges in Oxford – LMH and All Souls.  See here for a recently published article on Austen and the OED.’

Undergraduate teaching 

I teach Old and Middle English and English Language topics to undergraduates reading English.

Postgraduate teaching 

I teach on the English Language MSt course.


Since 2000 or so my research has focused on the history and editing of the OED, from its beginnings in the late 1850s up to and including the online version ( I am investigating the changes now being made to OED’s vastly influential picture of the language by the ambitious revision of the dictionary underway at Oxford since the 1990s (due to be complete in a couple of decades or so). I’m particularly interested in the ways that OED has recorded the language of canonical literary writers - Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, and so on - and whether the plethora of quotation evidence in OED from such sources tells you more about the history of the language or the history of the OED itself.

After my undergraduate degree I did an MA at the Centre of Medieval Studies, Toronto University, funded by a commonwealth scholarship. This gave me my first main topic of research, since my supervisor George Rigg suggested I wrote my dissertation on what, up to then, had been believed to be a corrupt scribal rewriting of the late 14c poem, Piers Plowman, preserved in one of the Bodleian Library manuscripts whose other contents George was working on at the time. He and I were the first people to study this text properly, and we came to the view - on literary and textual grounds - that it in fact represented an early authorial version of Piers Plowman. Our joint edition of the work appeared in 1983, published by the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies in Toronto (Piers Plowman: the Z-Text). Scholarly opinion is still divided on whether the Z-text really is authorial, but it has been included as such in one of the most important recent editions of the poem (A. V. C. Schmidt’s Piers Plowman: A Parallel-Text Edition of the A, B, C and Z Versions, 2 volumes, 1995-2008).

My earlier publications followed up this work one way or another, with articles, joint collections and then a book on the editing of Piers Plowman and other Middle English works (Editing Piers Plowman, Cambridge University Press, 1996). Over this time I was also the medieval editor of two Longman series, Longman Annotated Texts and Longman Medieval and Renaissance Criticism, which published editions and criticism aimed at both students and academics (e.g. Phillips and Havely’s Chaucer’s Dream Poetry and Simpson’s Introduction to Piers Plowman). Over 1998-2004 I developed parallel research interests in the history and editing of the OED, particularly the quotation sources on which this seminal dictionary is based (not as different a subject as it sounds: some of the most important 19c editors of Middle English works were also involved in the creation of the first edition of the OED). I received funding to set up the research project Examining the OED in 2005, published a book on the history of the 20th and 21st century OED in 2007 (Treasure-house of the Language, Yale University Press), and over 2009 I held a Leverhulme research fellowship to pursue this work further.




  • The Society's Dictionary: Articles and Excerpts on the OED. Virtual issue of The Transactions of the Philological Society available here at


  • Traditions and Innovations in the Study of Middle English Literature: The Influence of Derek Brewer, ed. with Barry Windeatt. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell and Brewer, 2013
  • Treasure-house of the Language: the Living OED. London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. xii & 331pp.


  • ‘The Lexicography of Standard Varieties of English’, in The Cambridge History of World Lexicography, ed. John Considine (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, forthcoming 2018)
  • ‘When I feel inclined to read poetry I take down my Dictionary’, in Andrew Blades and Piers Pennington, ed., Poetry and the Dictionary (Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, forthcoming 2017)
  • ‘Setting a Standard: Authors and Sources in the OED’, in Linda Pillière, ed., Norms and Margins in English Usage(Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, forthcoming 2016)
  • ‘Shakespeare and the OED’, in The Cambridge Guide to the Worlds of Shakespeare, ed. Bruce Smith et al (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2016) vol 1, 240-45
  • ‘‘That reliance on the ordinary’: Jane Austen and the Oxford English Dictionary’, Review of English Studies 66 (2015), 744-65. Selected as Editors' choice for free online access and available here
  • Metalanguage and Labelling in English Dictionaries', in The Oxford Handbook of Lexicography, ed. Philip Durkin, Oxford University Press, 2015, chapter 30, 488-500
  • ‘OED Online Re-launched: Distinguishing old scholarship from new’, Dictionaries 34 (2014), 101-26
  • ‘The future of historical dictionaries’, in The Bloomsbury Companion to Lexicography, ed. Howard Jackson (Bloomsbury: London, 2013), 341-54
  •  ‘Words and Dictionaries: OED, MED and Chaucer', in Traditions and Innovations in the Study of Middle English Literature, ed. C.Brewer and B. Windeatt (D.S. Brewer: Cambridge, 2013), 215-61
  • ‘Shakespeare, word-coining, and the OED’, Shakespeare Survey Volume 65 (2013), 345-57
  • ‘Dictionary-making, usage, literature and the classics: the unhappy fate of Oxford’s Quarto dictionary 1925-1958’, in Codification, canons, and curricula, ed Ulrich Busse, Ralf Schneider, and Anne Schröder, Aisthesis Verlag, Bielefeld, 2012, 167-82 (updated reprint of ‘The Oxford Quarto Dictionary’ below)
  • ‘“Goose-quill or Gander’s”? Female writers in Johnson’s Dictionary’, in Samuel Johnson: The Arc of the Pendulum, ed. Freya Johnston and Lynda Mugglestone, Oxford University Press (2012), 120-39
  • ‘“Happy Copiousness”? OED’s recording of female authors of the eighteenth century’, Review of English Studies 63 (2012), 86-117, available at Oxford Journals site here
  •  ‘Prescriptivism and descriptivism in the first, second and third editions of OED', English Today 26 (2010), 24-33
  • 'The Use of Literary Quotations in the OED’Review of English Studies 61 (2010), 93-125, available at Oxford Journals site here
  • ‘The OED as “literary instrument”: its treatment past and present of the vocabulary of Virginia Woolf’, Notes & Queries (2009) 56, 430-44, available at Oxford Journals site here
  •  ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’s treatment of female-authored sources of the eighteenth century’. Late Modern English, ed. I. Tieken Boone van Ostad. Peter Lang, Bern, 2009, 209-238
  • ‘The Oxford Quarto Dictionary’, Henry Sweet Society Bulletin 51 (2008), 25-40
  • The Oxford English Dictionary Supplements’, in A. Cowie, ed, Oxford History of Lexicography. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2008), 260-78
  • ‘Johnson, Webster, and The Oxford English Dictionary’, in H. Momma and M. Matto, ed., Blackwell Companion to the History of the English Language, Blackwell, Oxford (2008), 113-121
  • ‘Pronouncing the P: Prescription or Description in English 19th- and 20th-century dictionaries?’, Historiographia Linguistica 34 (2007), 257-80
  • ‘Reporting Eighteenth-Century Vocabulary in The Oxford English Dictionary’, in John Considine, ed., Words and Dictionaries from the British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007, 104-129