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Language by the (ever-evolving) book

The Oxford English Dictionary seeks to be of relevance to both traditionalists of the language and new users in an era of Googled searches and texting

Published Thu, Jan 23, 2014 · 10:00 PM
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TO compile a dictionary of nearly every word in the English language was an endeavour typical of Victorian times, complete with white-bearded gentlemen, utter confidence and an endearingly plodding pace. After a quarter-century, the first instalment emerged in 1884. Its contents? "A to Ant."

In our own impatient age, the Oxford English Dictionary is touch-typing towards a third edition, with 619,000 words defined so far, online updates every three months and a perma-gush of digital data to sort through. Greybeards are scarce today at its open-plan office, just earnest editors frowning at flat screens, occasionally whispering to their neighbours. For all the words here, few are spoken aloud.

This hush aside, change is afoot at the OED. For the first time in 20 years, the venerable dictionary has a new chief editor, Michael Proffitt, who assumes responsibility of retaining the vaunted traditions while ensuring relevance in an era of Googled definitions and text talk.

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