John Simpson, OBE (Doctor of Letters)

Friday 23 January, 10am

Press comment

“I’m delighted to receive this degree from the University of Leicester for both professional and personal reasons. Firstly, it’s rare for dictionary editors to be honoured in this way, and the award testifies to the high esteem in which the Oxford English Dictionary is held by colleagues in the academic world. But more significant to me personally is the fact that I have a family connection to the University’s foundation through Harry Simpson Gee, my grandfather’s cousin. He was Chairman of Stead & Simpson, the shoe manufacturing company which was founded by my great-grandfather, and was a highly successful businessman who became one of the University’s original benefactors. In 1924 he left £20,000 to the University College of Leicester in his will, the equivalent today of over £6.5 million. His son, Percy Gee, went on to serve the University for over forty years as Chairman of the University Council and as the University’s first Pro-Chancellor, and gave his name to the Percy Gee Building. I would therefore like to thank the Vice-Chancellor and his colleagues not only for the honour they have bestowed on me, but also for allowing me to rebuild a connection with a strand of my family’s history.”


John Simpson was born in Cheltenham and attended Dean Close School. He gained a BA degree in English Literature from the University of York and a MA degree in Medieval Studies from the University of Reading before joining  the editorial staff of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1976 to work on the Supplement to the OED. He was Co-Editor of the Second Edition of the OED, published in 1989, and in 1993 was appointed Chief Editor, a position he held until his retirement in October 2013. During his tenure he led the first comprehensive revision of the OED and oversaw the introduction of its online version. He also edited the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs (1982) and co-edited the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang (1992). He wrote introductions to Robert Cawdrey's Table Alphabeticall (1604), B.E.'s Dictionary of the Canting Crew (1699), Francis Grose's Popular Superstitions (1787), and James Redding Ware's Victorian Dictionary of Slang and Phrase (1909), published by the Bodleian Library. He co-edits James Joyce Online Notes, a forum for the publication of documentary evidence about the people, words and cultural references in James Joyce's fiction.  He is a member of the English Faculty at the University of Oxford and an Emeritus Fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford.  He is a member of the Philological Society and a founder member of the European Federation of National Institutions for Language; he has been a member of the Executive Committee of the latter since 2003. In an international context, he has acted as adviser to a number of national dictionaries, and in 1999 he was awarded an honorary degree by the Australian National University for his ‘distinguished creative achievement as a scholar in lexicography’. He was appointed OBE in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to literature.

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