The Oxford English Dictionary: 20 Volume Set

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9780191958922: The Oxford English Dictionary: 20 Volume Set
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The ultimate authority on the usage and meaning of English words and phrases, unparalleled in its accuracy and comprehensiveness, the Oxford English Dictionary is the supreme reference work for anyone who loves the language. Now, this greatest of all dictionaries appears in a new Second Edition--the first up-to-date coverage of words and meanings in one alphabetical sequence since the original dictionary was published in 1928.

The result of an enormously ambitious, on-going project to computerize the dictionary, the Second Edition integrates the original OED with the four volumes of the Supplement. Published between 1972 and 1986, this Supplement was produced to bring the Dictionary up to date, to extend its coverage to the language of the mid-20th century, and to reflect the ever-broadening international nature of the English. In addition to merging the original OED and the Supplement, which greatly enhances the convenience of using the Dictionary, the Second Edition includes some 5,000 new words and meanings--from perestroika to yuppification--which have entered the language quite recently. It has also been completely redesigned and reset to enhance its legibility: the typeface is more open, the headwords stand out more clearly, and the paper used is brighter, with greater opacity. Still another new feature is the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet to represent pronunciation, replacing the system devised by Sir James Murray, the first editor of the OED. By employing what is now the universally accepted standard guide to pronunciation, the Second Edition greatly extends the usefulness of this vital feature.

The key feature of the OED, of course, remains intact: its unique historical focus. Accompanying each definition is a chronologically arranged group of quotations that illustrate the evolution of meaning from the word's first recorded usage and show the contexts in which it can be used. The quotations are drawn from a huge variety of sources--literary, scholarly, technical, popular--and represent authors as disparate as Geoffrey Chaucer and Erica Jong, William Shakespeare and Raymond Chandler, Charles Darwin and John Le Carre. In all, nearly 2.5 million quotations--illustrating over a half-million words--can be found in the OED. Other features distinguishing the entries in the dictionary are the most authoritative definitions, detailed information on pronunciation, variant spellings throughout each word's history, extensive treatment of etymology, and details of area of usage and of any regional characteristics (including geographical origins).

A dictionary like no other in the world, the OED has been described as "among the wonders of the world of scholarship." With the publication of the Second Edition, that statement is today more apt that it ever has been.

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Proper words in their proper places--and a good many improper ones, too! If the OED's many obsolete definitions tend to be the most enjoyable--shuff is dialect for "shy," dolt was once upon a time a verb as well, meaning "to befool"--everyday idiosyncrasies still abound. But, for instance, occupies nine columns of text, and who would wish a single line away? There's also the sublime pleasure of trawling through the sea of relevant quotations. The OED's initial team of "voluntary readers" was asked to cite as many phrases as possible for both archaic and ordinary terms. None seems to have found this remotely arduous, and we now reap the ubiquitous ("present or appearing everywhere; omnipresent") rewards. This huge venture is a labor of lore, love, and good humor. One caveat: If you skip over the Historical Introduction, you'll miss learning about the Unregistered Words Committee, and overlook the wry warning, "If there is any truth in the old Greek maxim that a large book is a great evil, English dictionaries have been steadily growing worse ever since their inception...."

About the Author:


J. A. Simpson worked on the Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary and prepared the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, which was published in 1982. E. S. C. Weiner also served on the editorial staff of the Supplement and compiled the Oxford Guide to English Usage, which was published in 1983.

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