One of the most important improvements to the ongoing OED3 revision is occurring in the etymology sections, which are being greatly expanded. Yesterday’s Languagehat discusses two such expanded etymologies – those of ‘admiral’ and ‘to be’. The second is claimed by the current editors to be the longest etymology in OED3, coming in at
1,765 9,672* words.
So I had a look at OED2 and counted up all the words in all the etymology sections to see if ‘to be’ ranked similarly in the previous edition. It doesn’t. It’s only 31st, at 488-odd words. Here are the top eleven:
(Note that my word count is rough and rudimentary, counting only white spaces in the ET field, so may not correspond exactly to what you see on your interfaces. For instance I get 1131 for cockatrice when I paste it into Word).