Oxford English Dictionary may go out of print


The Express Tribune:

Oxford English Dictionary may go out of print

The world’s most extensive work on the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), may not appear in print form ever again according to The Telegraph.
Publishers of the renowned dictionary said that the print version of the book is extremely lengthy and argued that an online version would be more economical to scholars.
They also added that the third edition of the famous dictionary, which is estimated to fill 4o volumes, is 20 years behind schedule.
The OED’s first new chief editor for 20 years, Michael Proffitt, said the dictionary is facing delays due to an “information overload” from the internet, which is slowing his compilers.

His team of 70 philologists, including lexicographers, etymologists and pronunciation experts, has been working on the latest version, known as OED3, for the past 20 years.
Proffitt revealed to Country Life magazine that the next edition will not be completed until 2034, and likely only to be offered in an online form because of its large size.
“A lot of the first principles of the OED stand firm, but how it manifests has to change, and how it reaches people has to change,” said the 48-year-old editor.
The Oxford University Press stated that a print version will only be available for sale if there is enough demand for it at that time. It will comprise of 40 volumes, which is double the length of the second edition which came out in 1989.


That’s too bad. I’d rather have the 40 volumes of the new OED than rely on somebody’s server, or USB drive, or whatever. There is no guarantee that the medium on which information is saved will even be readable in the future. (What if the OED had only been published on 5 inch floppies?) What’s a future archeologist going to do with a buried server or hard drive?


I doubt paper books will ever go away. With “print on demand” technology, anyone can print a book if the e-publisher allows it. Even if the OED is not scheduled for a printing, I would be surprised if it were not an option via third-parties.

Digital format for reference works such as a dictionary make sense. Searching is so much easier, as is making comparisons. If a dictionary provides audio pronunciation, that is an advantage over paper editions. And, as mentioned in the news article, digital is much more portable.

Change in digital format is incremental. Any software which appeared on 5 inch floppies, if it were worth having, is still available today (although it may take some looking, as it probably has been superseded by better software.) Granted, user data might be hard to decode. However, just as modern archeologists have learned to decipher cuneiform tablets and hieroglyphics, I do not doubt that knowledge on how to decipher old data formats will be preserved. I would be surprised if digital equivalents of the Rosetta Stone didn’t already exist.


I’m surprised a dictionary can even stretch 20 volumes, never mind 40. And what a fascinating language that it will take 20 years to complete the next 40 volumes.


I still have three different 5" floppy readers! :smiley:


As an English woman living in the US this saddens me . I am in full agreement with JimG In fact a few years ago I started to hand write a journal again because I was mindful that much of our history, both secular and Church, is only able to be written because we have the written personal records . I once read a fantastic book about the pioneer days which was all possible because of letters that women had written to their relatives . These letters from women shared the daily details that men often do not write and 1/2 the picture would have been lost other wise. I am also currently enjoying the most beautiful TV series ( airs Sat pm) on PBS called Lark rise to Candelford that has so many profound truths about life that are revealed during our comings and goings , that I did some digging last night only to discover it is based on the writings of a woman about her life in Oxfordshire. Imagine what the Gospel story would have been like without the stories from the women’s perspectives , stories those women would have had to have shared with the apostles in order for them to be recorded. Mary visiting her cousin, the woman at the well, the encounter at empty tomb.
If all people do is blog , email, text and do everything electronically our descendants will not have a clue how we lived or what we thought.


And by that time most of the definitions will have changed anyway.

Ink has been getting extremely expensive though. Lot of books are going to e-readers and such. People are even using the print-to-file options.


We awl halve spell check now, sew we don’t knead a dictionary.


The biggest buyers of sources like the OED are libraries and often libraries prefer digital, especially for reference works. They’re more easily accessible, don’t require shelf space, and can be updated frequently. Print also has its advantages, but building new facilities to house the books isn’t popular among those making the funding decisions these days.


Agreed, terribly, terribly sad. I print out documents from the computer just to read them someplace else away from it, outside if possible. The electronic age is expanding our knowledge, no doubt about that, but it’s an incredibly superficial minute by minute kind of knowledge. There’s no ruminating; the connection between lived experience past or present and knowledge is weakening. There’s no informed, critically independent openmindedness. People have almost entirely lost the capacity for empathy in the sense of a common humanity which you acquire through the study of liberal arts, history, philosophy. People now only value practical knowledge, not knowledge which is difficult to acquire or requires change and growth of perspective. Am I being too cynical? We’re creating generations of zombies, not human beings. My guess is some hold out remnant of humanity will rebel at some point in the future, pick up an old musty, dusty hard copy of Walden, Dostoevsky, or maybe the Bible that he/she finds in an attic somewhere … and spread the word. If we’re lucky, this time will be the dark ages in times to come. :slight_smile:


I’m not a doom-and-gloom type but our technological civilisation is fragile, especially info tech.
It’s important to keep hard copies of reference works, not just dictionaries and encyclopedias but repair manuals & the like.


Well, the list price of the 20-volume set is $3,000. The question would seem not to be what one would rather have, but what one would be willing to pay. If the next edition will be 40 volumes, what with price increases and all, that could mean a dictionary costing the better part of $10,000. But I agree that technological media is fragile indeed. Future generations won’t have the thrill of discovering a family’s old photo albums when it turns out that all they have are unreadable flash drives and SD cards.


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