The Oxford English Dictionary
(OED) describes itself -- with somewhat un-British immodesty -- as "the definitive record of the English language." It's certainly big
The 20 volume Oxford English Dictionary is an unrivalled guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over half a million words
The Dictionary traces the evolution of over 600,000 words from across the English-speaking world through 2.4 million quotations
This is all yours for a mere £750 (about $1250). But if you're keen to adorn your bookshelves with its hefty volumes, you'd better hurry: The Telegraph reports that this may be the last edition sold as physical books
Publishers fear the next edition will never appear in print form because its vast size means only an online version will be feasible, and affordable, for scholars.
Thanks to the Internet, then, the OED will live on in a digital form, at least. Ironically, though, it is the Internet that is killing the print version, and making production of the next edition harder than ever:
"Although the internet has made access easier," said [OED chief editor] Mr Proffitt, "it's also created the dilemma of information overload.
"In 1989, we looked for five years' recorded usage before a word entered the dictionary. Now, it's 10 years because there is so much more material to sift through."
He said his team working on the definition of new entries has a target of 50 to 60 words a month, slower than in the past because the world wide web has created so much more source material.
Mr Proffitt said: "I averaged about 80 when I started because, in 1989, we didn’t have computers on our desks, so there was a limit to how much you could research. The library was our primary resource."
And if that sounds slow, bear in mind that one researcher spent nine months revising definitions for the word "run." Whether or not there is a printed version, the plan is to have the next edition finished in 2034. But there could be some slippage there, if previous editions are anything to go by:
The first edition, mooted in 1858 with completion expected in 10 years, took 70 years.
So it might be best to buy the current edition while you can. As well as being "the definitive record of the English language," it will also probably become a collector's item, a monument to a pre-digital age -- and a symbol of the Internet's power both to save and destroy.
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