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Web could spell curtains for Oxford Dictionary

smh.com.au | Aug. 30, 2010
Oxford University Press, the publisher, said so many people prefer to look up words using its online product that it's uncertain whether the dictionary's next edition will be printed on paper at all.

"Few people own the full version so maybe now that it is online more people can gain access to it," said the 30-year-old. He would still mourn the loss of the printed version, he added.

Launched in 2000, the online Oxford also makes it easier for its publisher to catch up with rapid semantic changes and new words.

Editors put updates out every three months. In March, for example, they added words such as "techy" and "superbug" to the online version.

The dictionary was first published in parts starting in 1884. It kept growing for decades until the complete text went out in 1928. It was the first comprehensive English dictionary since Samuel Johnson's "A Dictionary of the English Language" was published in 1755, and has since evolved to become the accepted authority on the meaning and history of words.

The version users now consult - the second edition - has 291,500 entries, plus 2.4 million quotations as sources. Unlike shorter printed versions such as the single-volume Oxford Dictionary of English, it doesn't track current usage.

A team of 80 lexicographers are preparing the third edition of the dictionary, which is just one-quarter finished. Oxford University Press hasn't yet given a date for when the third edition will be ready.

In December, the online version will be relaunched to include a historical thesaurus to make cross-referencing easier.

 

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