Literary Quote of the Month

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies," said Jojen. "The man who never reads lives only one." - George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Is it Bye Bye for The Oxford English Dictionary?!

"The Oxford English Dictionary, may well never see the light of day again, only the light of a monitor."
...Curt Hopkins, ReadWriteWeb

OK, When was the last time you opened up your dead tree dictionary?! The folks at Oxford University Press think you may have forsaken that old reliable piece of nostalgia that use to grace a special place in every household. And that may mean no new updated dictionaries from them! At least not the printed kind...

The Oxford English Dictionary "is the accepted authority on the evolution of the English language over the last millennium. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over half a million words, both present and past," and has been in print since 1884. It is such a massive undertaking that there are 300 scholars, researchers, readers, and consultants working on the latest 3rd edition, and is projected to cost about $55 million. Right now the overhaul of the third edition, which was begun in the late 1990's, is about one third finished and is expected to be completed by 2037! In an interview this past sunday with The Sunday Times, Nigel Portwood, chief executive of Oxford University Press, said he didn't think the third edition of the dictionary will be printed...

"The print dictionary market is just disappearing, it is falling away by tens of percent a year"... Nigel Portwood

On the other hand, the online version of The Oxford English Dictionary gets over 2 million hits a month from subscribers. And in our new age of technology, is it really any wonder? Of course the current edition of The Oxford English Dictionary is 20 volumes in total and weighing in at 750 pounds! But even sales for conventional dictionaries are slowing down. With the advent of the internet it's as easy as the stroke of the keyboard to find a meaning of a word. And if you are using your Kindle, iPad or most any eReaders, it's as easy as a quick highlight and you have your answer.

But the dead tree dictionary is more than definitions really, it's a world of discovery. Opening up the pages of a dictionary for no other purpose than to read about words is an adventure in itself... Here's a few random words from my Oxford Pocket American Dictionary...
  • hymenopteran... n. an insect having four transparent wings, including bees, wasps, and ants.
  • crepuscular... adj. appearing or active in twilight
  • amanuensis... n. a person who writes from dictation or copies manuscripts. A literary assistant
So, what do you think? Is the printed dictionary a thing of the past? There is some validity to the printed dictionary being antiquated. New words enter our language at a rapid rate, and this year alone The Oxford English Dictionary added 2000 new words, so one could say that the print dictionary is outdated faster than the publisher can get it to the shelves.

"I love dictionaries. This sounds really sad, but if I am stuck when writing a book, then I flick through a dictionary, as they are full of inspiration, taking you off on really interesting trails and detours, which you can't have with an online dictionary. I would hate for a generation of children in the future never to have that feeling."... Julie Bertagna, children's author 4/28/2007 The Herald

All this reminds me of the end of the card catalog. I remember feeling quite sad when my library took out the card catalogs (do you remember the card catalogs?) and switched over to computer search engines. I loved flipping through the cards, sometimes finding inspiration for reading about something I never would have otherwise found... Dictionaries or card catalogs, I still like to be able to hold something in my hands and flip through to do a bit of research. But in an ever growing world of technology we better make sure our keystrokes are up-to-date...

Some of the new words added to this years dictionaries... “Wurfing” (surfing the internet at work), “Tweetup,” a combo-term for ‘tweet + meet up,’ used to describe meeting arranged through Twitter, and "Staycation", a money-saving holiday at home.

P.S. Need an online dictionary? Try Merriam Webster online, and check out their "Word of the Day" while you're there.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I heard about this on the news the other day (think it was the news). It is true though. the last time I used a dictionary was a when we played scrabble and there was an issue with a world...everyone uses on line it seems.

Suzanne Yester said...

Hi Bibliophile!
I forgot all about scrabble! Yes, I would be getting out the "regular" dictionary for that too! (And I have) When I looked into The Oxford English Dictionary, I was amazed that it took over 20 years to redo it each time, so I can see where just updating a data base would be easier.... I bet those new words are illegal in scrabble too! But that's an issue to take up with the Scrabble authorities! :-)

Michele said...

I've consulted my "regular" dictionary several times in the past month. I've become addicted to "Shuffle row", the new kindle game. Several of the words I've formed come up "not a word". I've consulted my tried and true "regular" dictionary for validation and they are there. I'd be sad to see it go.

La Coccinelle said...

I don't have a Kindle or an iPad, and I break out the printed dictionary quite often. If I don't read books online or with a device with a built-in dictionary, am I really expected to start up my computer just to look up a word I don't understand on the printed page?

Plus, I've been known to get lost in the dictionary. I'll open it up, looking for something in particular... and then get sidetracked by all the cool words and definitions in there. I don't think I've had that happen with any of the online dictionaries.

Suzanne Yester said...

Hi Michele,
Yes, I still think the "traditional" dictionary will always have a place in the hands of readers. And it really is easier to open up a book then get online to find out about a word you have a question about.

AND, I just started playing Shuffle Row on my Kindle too! Have you tried Every Word? Great word builder games ;-)

Suzanne Yester said...

Hi La Coccinelle,
You pointed out something that I love doing too - getting lost in the dictionary! Finding new words next to something you're looking up- that's something you'll never experience with an online computer dictionary or the word look up on an eReader. Good point!

Elisabeth said...

I love my dictionary and use it all the time. I am always looking up words when I do crossword puzzles. My uncle gave it to me when I graduated from high school many many moons ago, he had my name embossed on the cover. It is a special book. We also use it when we play Scrabble. Yes, it is not as popular these days, but I for one will never give it up.

Suzanne Yester said...

HI Elisabeth!
I love that your Uncle gave you a dictionary as a gift AND had it embossed with your name! How special! I guess we are of like minds because I can't imagine not having a dictionary handy either! Especially with Scrabble! :-) Seems like there are a lot of us Scrabble players out there too!

Thanks for adding another thumbs up for the printed book!

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