Come on in – the “liquid of which seas, lakes, and rivers are composed” is lovely!

About the online Oxford English DictionaryWho’d have thought it? When online reference resources were in their infancy, Westminster Libraries were offered the chance to subscribe to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Casting a beady eye on the 20 volumes of the print version, causing the shelves to bow slightly at Marylebone Library, I wasn’t convinced that it would be a big ‘seller’ for us. Still, it was not too expensive, and we could get rid of it quite soon. What a knuckle-head! (“noun, a slow or stupid person”).

The fusty, musty, just-for-nerds sad case turns out to be a much-loved companion and trusted tool. We love it so much that Radio 4 visited us in September to talk to us about it – listen again on the BBC iplayer (the OED bit starts about 6 minutes in).

The OED has consistently been one of the most-used of our online reference resources (available exclusively for library members). It’s addictive: users have been lost for weeks, sucked into a magical world of definitions and etymology. And now it has got worse, as it’s been revamped.

The dictionary (“noun, a book which explains or translates, usually in alphabetical order, the words of a language or languages…”) is still at the core of the website, but the whole edifice now includes much more exploration of the language. I cherry-picked a few words from the Chief Editor, setting out his stall (be careful – you have to pay attention for this bit!):

We’ve tried to tilt the site more towards the English language than towards the dictionary as an end in itself. Search results move from simple lists to visualizations/timelines. They can also be filtered according to a number of categories, allowing you to start off with big numbers (e.g. all English words derived from Italian), and reduce them by steps down to small, significant subsets (e.g. all English words derived from Italian from the field of Music which are first recorded in English in the 18th century). That’s 167 words, starting with adagio.

So now you know. If you just want a quick definition, dart in, grab it and scuttle out again. If you want a wallow in the language, stick around, check out the side turnings, and enjoy (“verb, to be in joy, or in a joyous state; to manifest joy, exult, rejoice”).

[David]

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