The Oxford English Dictionary should be really unpopular. Dubbed “the definitive record of the English language” (how racy!), the OED was compiled by encouraging people to send in the earliest examples they could find of the use of words – hundreds of people sent in thousands of extracts from their reading.
So, all very academic, and nothing to do with the rest of us, right? Not right – count the hits.
The OED was one of the first publications to be digitised by the Oxford University Press, and it was also one of the first to be added to the Westminster Libraries stable of online reference resources. And it has consistently occupied a place near the top of the list, hitwise. With the online version you can choose how far you want to immerse yourself: a quick paddle as you get a definition of a word, up to the waist as you find out about pronunciation; or total immersion in all those quotations from the past which help to establish the exact meaning of the word.
Who’d want to do all that? OK, I know – lots of people. Don’t they have matchbox labels to catalogue?
PS Editor’s comment: I can’t resist linking again to David (yes, that David ^) being interviewed about the OED on Radio 4 last year. He likes it more than he lets on here! the OED bit starts at 6 minutes into the programme.