The Oxford English Dictionary is one of humanity’s greatest achievements

Duh-duh, duh-duh, diddly duh, dum. That, in case you haven’t been a student in recent years and so haven’t watched much daytime telly for a while, is the sound the Countdown clock makes as it ticks off its last seconds. As we speak, the clock is diddly-dumming for Countdown’s print edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English. Dictionary Corner is going online.oxford_1833074c

For the last 30 years, the show has used the ODE – the dictionary of modern English, not to be confused with the Oxford English Dictionary, a historical record of all words ever used in the English language – to check whether the words that contestants come up with are legitimate. Starting today, however, Dictionary Corner’s Susie Dent will use the Oxford Dictionaries Online website, rather than riffling through the dictionary itself.

There is something sad, perhaps, about this. The Oxford dictionaries are one of humanity’s greatest achievements – the first edition of the OED was a seven-decade labour of love, and a groundbreaking new way of looking at how we use our language. As Simon Winchester writes in his wonderful book about the birth of the OED, The Surgeon of Crowthorne, the idea of looking something up in the dictionary, such a basic concept to us, is relatively new: indeed the phrasal verb “to look up”, meaning to search for something in a book of reference, is not recorded until 1692. Shakespeare could not look up words in a comprehensive English dictionary; nor could Bunyan or Milton. […]

(from The Telegraph, Tom Chivers, 30-06-2014)

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