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Monday, May 12, 2008

Not Down With O.E.D.

posted by on May 12 at 15:00 PM

Via Maud, we have a New York Times report that there are no plans to print a new edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. The dictionary will only exist online from here on out. I still have my giant one-volume, tiny print edition, which I barely use, but I still find this really sad news.

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Is that the 9-up one? Yeah, that's about impossible without magnification. I have the older 4-up version, and I can read it just fine -- in fact, as I get older it gets easier....

Posted by Fnarf | May 12, 2008 3:05 PM

What's wrong with the dictionary that comes with Word?

Posted by elenchos | May 12, 2008 3:06 PM

Get a library card; you have access to the OED for free through the library's Web site.

The online version is *hugely* more useful in terms of searching for terms, etymology, usage, etc. The print version can't really be searched in the same way, and it obviously can't be upated, either.

As far as Elenchos/@2 goes: Oh my god, that's not a serious question is it?

Posted by Simac | May 12, 2008 3:11 PM


Posted by Mr. Poe | May 12, 2008 3:22 PM

This is a damn shame. Now our children will only know we were really snobby intellectuals by perusing our active Widgets and Web page histories.

Posted by el | May 12, 2008 3:26 PM

Felch me, el. That one's not in the OED.

Posted by Fnarf | May 12, 2008 3:40 PM

@2 - It doesn't work when you're hiking and forgot your solar backpack charger ....

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 12, 2008 3:41 PM

Between that news and the Mother's Day piece, yesterday's NYT was a real tear-jerker. Only online makes me sad.

Posted by kerri harrop | May 12, 2008 3:44 PM

I said "we", didn't I? I bet my library can beat up your library...

Posted by el | May 12, 2008 3:44 PM

The joy of a printed dictionary is stumbling across other words on your way to the one you were looking for. I love to get lost in the dictionary.

Oh well, online dictonaries are easily searchable and easily updatable.

I realize the rest of you OED lovers probably all read "The Professor and the Madman" a few years ago, but I just got around to it. I liked it.

Posted by PopTart | May 12, 2008 3:49 PM

Think of the trees that will be saved.

Posted by Mike of Renton | May 12, 2008 3:51 PM

It's simply not sexy to have unread books stored in computer files. That shit needs to be on real shelves gathering real dust. How else are nerdy, semi-attractive girls like me supposed to get laid?

Posted by el | May 12, 2008 4:00 PM

I'm with 11. The retrogrouch in me feels sad, loves book, but ... reference materials that come out in new editions periodically? What a tree gobbler.

Okay, I'm thinking more of PHONE BOOKS, than dictionaries. I'm perfectly content with decades-old dictionaries, myself. But a 5 y/o phone book is poo.

Long term, we're going paperless, and I try to look on the bright side. I'll still be the crazy old man in the neighborhood who has a house full of of books and knows how to fix his own car, but...

And yes, hooray for stumbling across other things on the way to searching for something! Er... not that I don't spend a good deal of time on the internet chasing tangents...

Or writing them...

Posted by CP | May 12, 2008 4:01 PM

wow, end of an era. i'm in shock. i just let out a loud dramatic gasp and can't find the words to make this right.

Posted by josh | May 12, 2008 4:15 PM

You can stumble across words in the online OED.

Posted by elenchos | May 12, 2008 4:16 PM

OMG, I am so glad someone brought up "The Professor and the Madman." That book boasts the single most overblown passage of writing in the known universe, and it cracks my shit up every time I even think about the book. Let me find it in Google Books, for those who enjoy such things... (Please note that the entire book is just about this over-the-top. In fact, the supposedly scandalous premise doesn't even make sense--all the "madman" was doing was submitting page references for words, not making up definitions.)

From Mr. Winchester on the madman's origins:

Ceylon is in reality a kind of postlapsarian treasure island, where every sensual gift of the tropics is available, both to reward temptation and to beguile and charm. So there are cinnamon and coconut, coffee and tea; there are sapphires and rubies, mangoes and cashews, elephants and leopards; and everywhere a rich, hot, sweetly moist breeze, scented by the sea, spices, and blossoms.

And there are the girls--young, chocolate-skinned, ever-giggling naked girls with sleek wet bodies, rosebud nipples, long hair, coltish legs, and scarlet and purple petals folded behind their ears--who play in the white Indian Ocean surf and who run, quite without shame, along the cool wet sands on their way back home.

It was these nameless village girls--the likes of whom had frolicked naked in the Singhalese surf for scores of years past, just as they still do--that young William Chester Minor remembered most. It was these young girls of Ceylon, he later said he was sure, who had unknowingly set him on the spiral path to his eventually insatiable lust, to his incurable madness, and to his final perdition.


Posted by leek | May 12, 2008 4:20 PM

@15 I see your point but part of my pleasure is tactile. I do not get the same tactile pleasure out of touching my computer monitor as I do in touching the delightful paper thin pages of a dictionary.

Posted by PopTart | May 12, 2008 4:28 PM

I love the illustrations in old dictionaries, each is a tiny work of art. The pictures vary greatly in style by publisher and decade and are excellent exemplars of trends in editorial art.

I pored over my parents' 1948 Webster's as one would a picture book before I could read. There are countless things I am able to identify which I have never actually seen (viz. aeolian harp)because of the time I spent browsing. I suppose the job of dictionary illustrator is one of those that will be made wholly obsolete by the internet.

Posted by inkweary | May 12, 2008 4:34 PM

Dictionaries--hell, reference works of any kind--that are not full-text searchable are maddening, yet electronic editions remain the rare exception, and the few that do exist are like as not to be tied to some obscure proprietary hardware.

It's been years since there was any excuse for this.  Dare I hope we're finally seeing the industry's wake-up call...?

Posted by lostboy | May 12, 2008 4:50 PM

PopTart @17, not to pick on you, but hasn't the "tactile pleasure" argument for paper printing passed into cliche by now?

It reminds of me SUV owners going on about the see-over-traffic high seating position, oblivious to its high--and highly socialized--costs (financial, environmental, and otherwise).

Posted by lostboy | May 12, 2008 5:00 PM


What's wrong with the dictionary that comes with Word

AH HAH HAH HAH! That's a good one.

Posted by Greg | May 12, 2008 5:00 PM

@20 Oh, go on pick on me. But if my fetish is the tactile pleasure of paper what's wrong with that? I love the feel of paper, all paper, and I have since I was a kid.

Besides, I'm not opposed to the OED online, or anything else online for that matter. I'm just wistful.

Posted by PopTart | May 12, 2008 5:19 PM

So PopTart, what did you think of that passage? I'm quite curious.

Posted by leek | May 12, 2008 5:27 PM

@23 Well, truthfully I skimmed a lot of Winchester's purple prose. Though I admit I didn't skip the description of how Minor cut off his own penis.

What I liked about the book was that I had never given much thought to how dictionaries were put together before so I found the discussion of people looking through books to find sources to cite for the earliest usage of words very interesting.

I also found the logistical nightmare of collating all the slips of paper fun to ponder.

I'm sure there are probably many better, more high falutin books on how the OED and other dictionaries for that matter were written, but Winchester's book was a quick and easy read so it met my needs.

Posted by PopTart | May 12, 2008 6:02 PM

I'm with PopTart and inkweary. I like to look through THE BOOK. I have a few dictionaries (I know, I'm smart). The Big Boy from the early 60's is like tot awesome, what with its pictures, its many roots, its syns and ants, etc., its overall language formality and thoroughness of grammar. I like to luxuriate in it. I like to hop around it, luxuriatingly.

Online anything info-related is not luxurious. It is all speed and no luxury. It is best suited for getting unstuck on the crossword puzzle where you don't, uh, *remember* that "appellee" doesn't look anything that 'last name' or something akin to 'last name' would fit into because, after some semi-quick goongling, you'd find that it means something entirely different, and, as such, something immediately solvable.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | May 12, 2008 6:03 PM

What WILL we decorate with now?

Posted by Miss Poppy Dixon | May 13, 2008 6:06 AM

This does make me sad. I will cherish my 1 volume OED all the more. As already mentioned, when will the damn phone books take this step???

@16 - Woah! I have a co-worker from Sri Lanka; I'll have to ask him about that.

Posted by Levislade | May 13, 2008 9:04 AM

I still remember my parents' unabridged Webster from the 30s or 40s. It was about a foot thick and had wonderful engravings for the illustrations.

Posted by Greg | May 13, 2008 9:33 AM

PopTart @22, sorry for an overly harsh response.  It was born of long-standing frustration.  By all means, wist on with my blessing.

Truth is I love the feel of a fine document myself, and have been known to geek a little on the enjoyable quality Japanese companies often bring to even mainstream printing.  So to answer your question:

But if my fetish is the tactile pleasure of paper what's wrong with that?

Nothing at all.  I just find it a weak argument for limiting reference books to the printed status quo.

Despite my cheering the OED's move, I don't particularly want to see paper dictionaries eliminated.  I'd be thrilled to see them become niche products with good quality paper and binding, purchased by papyrophiles as affirmative choice rather than everyone by default.

Lloyd @25, I'm sad to see you find no luxury in anything online info-related.  I've wiled away hours with the online OED, Wikipedia, and the extensively hyperlinked Japanese dictionaries on my Mac and my DS, following delightfully wandering paths that would not be open or even apparent to me in print.  Luxuriating is all about personal preference, though, so peruse as you like.

Posted by lostboy | May 13, 2008 9:57 AM

@26 Poppy, you're right! Books are SO decorative.

Posted by Gloria Upson | May 13, 2008 11:51 AM

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