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The Compact Oxford English Dictionary
04 October 2007 00:42

I wasn't always a computer geek. In fact, I spent some time in my early college years as a linguistics major. Language is fascinating to me, particularly etymology (the study of where words come from). I recall my linguistics professor often mentioning the Oxford Engish Dictionary as the place to go for word history. Once while in the library I took the chance to find it and was amazed to find not one large volume, but 20(!) which comprised the work.

For every word listed in the OED a complete history is provided, showing how the given word has been used from its very first known occurrence down to modern usage. It's an incredible resource for anybody interested in the history of the English language.

The dictionary is available in a variety of formats, from the full 20-volume set (plus additions) to online access via subscription, to CD-ROM versions.

Recently, via the Cool Tools Blog (an excellent addition to your feed reader, I might add) I came across the "Compact Oxford English Dictionary." This is a single volume work containing the entire text of the 20-volume set. How do they work this magic? By micrographic reduction, placing several pages of the OED on each leaf of this book. The other trick is a large form factor. At roughly 17 x 11 x 4 inches this is a large book (one Amazon reviewer reports it weighs in at 11 3/4 pounds). A reading glass is provided for those farsighted folks like me who need a little extra help with smaller text.

At somewhere between $200-$300 dollars, it's not exactly pocket change, but beats paying nearly $1000 for the 20-volume set (not to mention the new bookcase at Ikea to house them all). If, like me, you'll need to save a few pennies before acquiring your own copy, you can satisfy your thirst for linguistic history by subscribing to the OED Word a day feed.

Disclaimer: Yes, there are Amazon referral links in this post, though that wan't the motiviation for blogging about this book. The OED is simply a great resource, and I found this Compact Edition a fun and a bit more wallet-accessible way into the OED.

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Daniel Hanks

I'm a system administrator working for Omniture

Interested in

digital archival
digital libraries
web applications
web infrastructure
distributed storage

among other things . . .


Pamela Hanks

is an excellent storyteller.

(She also happens to be my wife :-)

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