Robert Burchfield was one of a group of New Zealanders, including Kenneth Sisam, Norman Davis and Jack Bennett, who were experts on medieval literature and language. He was born in Whanganui in 1923, and educated there and at Victoria University of Wellington (with a break for war service). In 1949 he won a Rhodes Scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford. After gaining his degree he lectured at various Oxford colleges in English literature and language. He became friendly with C. T. Onions, one of the surviving editors of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and in 1957 was an obvious choice for the position of editor for the second OED supplement. This eventually filled four large volumes and took nearly 30 years to complete. Burchfield vastly expanded the inclusion of non-UK English and scientific, technological and literary terms. He also acquired some notoriety for including previously taboo Anglo Saxon swear words. His achievement was to single-handedly re-establish a tradition of historical lexical research on the OED that had all but disappeared.
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