May 14, 2008


It doesn't seem right -- at all -- that the Oxford English Dictionary may never again be reprinted on paper. But it seems like that's the direction in which we're headed. Virginia Heffernan had an entertaining piece about the issue in last Sunday's New York Times. Here's a taste:

"For some reason, the prospect of a Web-only O.E.D. made me nervous. Talking on the phone with Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large for the Oxford English Dictionary, I fished for reassurance. 'Um, are you even just going to print out the new dictionary, like on your laser printer or at Kinko’s or something? Just to have a hard copy?' I asked.

'I’m not sure we have printed it out,' he replied coolly. 'In any case, we’ve only finished from volume ‘M’ to ‘quit shilling.’ We have about 20 years’ more work to do revising and adding entries. Who knows what will happen with technology in 20 years? We certainly don’t.'

Jeez. I don’t either. I don’t even know what a 'quit shilling' is. But while The New York Times and other newspapers have refrained from rash decisions about their print editions, the Oxford English Dictionary — staid, right? — has already shaken off the shackles of print and said cheerio (“a parting exclamation of encouragement”) to books! The stab I felt was sharper than nostalgia. It was fear"



Ranylt's picture

I won't panic yet--I haven't

I won't panic yet--I haven't read the full NYT article, but I'm assuming they're referring to the massive 12+ volume FULL edition of the dictionary, which few consumers buy (only libraries can generally afford the cost and space). Your normal one-volume version printings which are more popular and which kill cockroaches so well will probably still kick around for some time--the one-volume version is actually a concise version.

That said, I've always wanted my own set of the full many-volume version. So pretty.

Peter Lynn's picture

No more big, heavy volumes

No more big, heavy volumes of the OED? What am I going to use to crush cockroaches now?

auntboo's picture

I spent many hours in my

I spent many hours in my youth poring over the dictionary, flipping pages and looking for cool new words: "susurration!" "chiaroscuro!" "scud!" How exactly does one idly browse a web-based dictionary?

PaddyDog's picture

This is very disturbing.

This is very disturbing. The only thing that beats a good solid book in the hand is a good solid dictionary in the hand. I am devastated not just by the implications of this decision by OED but also by the fact that I have just reached the point in my life where I was thinking I might be able to afford a complete OED set instead of my abridged volumes. I love trees. I love the Web, but please God don't take print books away from us. Please.