2000 - Oxford English Dictionary Online

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The very idea of the 'Oxford English Dictionary' is enormously complicated - if its aim is to record every significant word in the history of the English language, then it can never rest. The English language is constantly evolving and mutating, and in a world packed with text messages, websites, science fiction, technological advances, new fashions, pop genres and foods, the growth of language is going haywire, and the lexicographers have their work cut out.

New technology

Online dictionaries surely embody the future for word browsers. New technologies allow word definitions and their histories to be conjured up with the click of a mouse. And now, instead of having to print new books each time the dictionary is updated, the online version can be altered with relative speed and ease. In fact every 3 months the lexicographers at the OED add 1800 new and revised words to the online dictionary.

New functions

The 'Oxford English Dictionary online' holds many other advantages over the paper version. Timeline diagrams can be revealed to show the points through history at which a word has shifted in meaning. Words can be listed by date, with a column showing all the words that have appeared in any particular year. You can search for a word when you know the meaning but have forgotten the word. And you can search for quotations from a particular book or author, or for words that derive from a particular language. In other words, thanks to this amazingly complex website, the whole map of the English language is much easier to discern.

An easier job for OED readers

Teams of readers in the UK and USA are still ploughing through texts to find unrecorded examples of words - old and new. Of course, computers have sped up the process enormously, and have made the task of lexicographers much easier. Entire texts can now be searched in minutes rather than days, and thanks to enormous databases of words and quotations a researcher can quickly discover how many meanings a word has, how frequently those meanings are used, and in what context.

With thanks to the OED for kindly granting us permission to use these extracts. Find out more at OED online.