OpenFiction [Blog]

The OED goes virtual

Posted in Personal by scarsonmsm on August 30, 2010

While I am generally not that sentimental about the physical passing into the digital, I have to admit a moment of sadness for this one: It appears the 3rd edition of the Oxford English Dictionary will never make it into print. I own a copy of the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 6th ed, which hopefully will still have future editions printed.

It’s understandable, since the full OED is 20 volumes. It’s essentially the same waste of paper as printing phone books (which I do wish would pass away), but there is something about the act and discipline of looking up the meaning of a word in a physical dictionary—reading the associated meanings, the words that surround it on the page—that makes the experience uniquely worth the effort. It’s also reassuring to know out there on physical paper somewhere is a reference that contains the meanings and histories in exhaustive detail of the words we use to create and dissect our world.

In our reading room at home, I have a dictionary on a book stand open and ready (it actually holds a copy of the Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary, which is also quite good). I had the pleasure this weekend of helping my eight year-old daughter look up the word umbrage, as we were discussing the names of professors in the Harry Potter book she was reading. She worked through the alphabetical listing, stopped at other words that interested her, discussed the various nuances of the definition of umbrage (I was unaware of the shading/overshadowing meaning).

I’d hate to think such experiences are passing into the mists of the digital age.

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