Posted by: Admin | August 30, 2010

Word up

I was sad to read today in the Sunday Times, (which can only be accessed on the web on payment of a fee) that the long awaited third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary will never see the light of day. Apparently, a team of 80 lexicographers have spent the past 21 years compiling the new edition, only to be told that it will never appear in print. Plans are afoot to publish online where the current edition attracts two million hits a month.

An annual subscription costs £205 (plus Vat) per annum. Blimey. Now, I realise that we’re not talking one volume dictionary-lite here – the second edition, published in 1989 and still available at £750, (double blimey!), consists of 20 volumes.

Publishing on the internet undoubtedly means that the Oxford University Press, publishers of the OED, can be more attuned to the ever-changing landscape of the English Language, adding new words quickly and removing those that are deemed to have become obsolete. Finding a word is quicker at the click of a mouse rather than a flick of a page.

It’s the future, I know, no point in fighting it. But am I alone in feeling a tiny thrill every time I pick up my dictionary to check a spelling or a meaning or – such pleasure! – look up a word I have never seen before? The feel of the book in my hands, the weight of it, the thinness of the paper: all these things give me a shiver of contentment.

When I was young I used to read the dictionary every morning, skimming the words with hungry eyes before breakfast, rolling unfamiliar words around on my tongue. It was as if I was stepping into a different world as I parted the pages, a world where people knew things, where it wasn’t odd to be curious or to enjoy learning. A world where a geeky girl like me could touch the stars. Would I have felt like that if I had to log on for my word fix?

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Responses

  1. I have to admit I am somewhat of a dictionary freak. I have two 2 volume sets here at my fingertips and three or four more in the living room. There is also a reverse dictionary.
    The use of online dictionaries is for convenience. I try not to make a habit of it.
    Why do I buy these old dictionaries? Because when I touch them imaginary sparks fly. Because every time I look up something I learn more than I’m looking for. Because the book spirits need a breath of fresh air once in a while. Books are alive you know.
    I will not be buying the online version or even a new hard copy. I haven’t memorized all the words in the old ones yet.

  2. Know where you’re coming from on this but I have swallowed my pride and often use dictionary.reference.com/wordoftheday. This has provided me with fine words such as obstreperous and termagant but my wife feels that using these words when admonishing my children is eristic. Leave you to decide.

  3. Thanks for your comments, guys. Those wonderful words are all in the paper copy, Gary! I agree – where’s the magic in an online “book”?


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