on June 21, 2004
Once you've seen the OED, nothing else really looks like a dictionary. This is the authoritative source of information on words of the English language - their many meanings (look up "jack", for example), usages, histories, and origins, and more.
It takes me a lot longer to use this than to use any other dictionary. No matter what I look up, I find lots of other interesting words or meanings on the way through. That's the fun of it, though: so many discoveries to make about even the words thought I knew.
The compact edition is an incredible feat of printing. It really does contain everything in the 20-volume set, mini-printed with nine regular pages per compact page. The paper is tissue thin, so the book isn't a meter thick, but opaque and durable.
The mini-printing can be a problem, though. Older eyes will not be able to read the text without a magnifier; one is provided, but isn't the easiest to use. The size and weight of the book could be a problem, too. If you want to display this, and you will, it might not be easy to find a big enough space for it.
It's worth the trouble. This volume is the only practical way to have the OED at home (mansions not included).
There is nothing like it - if I were allowed to own just one book, this would be it.
on June 19, 2001
This dictionary is unequalled (see the praise of all the other reviewers, with whom I agree regarding the quality of this reference). Beyond excellence loom are other issues, however: weight and legibility are the most obvious. My balance beam scale indicates that it weighs (approximately) 11-3/4 pounds (i.e. 5-1/3 kg). So when a reviewer says this edition is 'heavy' this is what he means.... Note that the dimensions (sometimes called 'big') are 3.89 inches x 17.55 inches x 11.21 inches.... As to legibility, I cannot find any mention of the point size, so I will be more subjective. I am 55 years old and I wear progressive lens (in other words I'm both farsighted and nearsighted!). In average light if I take my glasses off I can read the definitions WITHOUT the magnifying glass, though the words sometimes alternately blur and sharpen, so it's sometimes a stretch. I find it quite easy to read WITH the magnifying glass, especially under a lamp. True, the tiny print means it's not like reading a John LeCarre paperback, but this is a * dictionary *, for Pete's sake! I use it to solve linguistics puzzles. Tonight I was stumped by the words "theophoric" and "enclitic" (both in reference to scribal practices involving the copying of the Hebrew Bible). So I lugged the monster down from my bookcase (where it lies flat!), skipped pulling out the magnifying glass, and looked up the definitions, pausing as my eyes would go in and out of focus (I can be quite lazy when I'm lying prone on the carpet and don't want to get up to get the magnifier!). I am absolutely happy with my purchase. My wife would not be, partly because she would be shocked to discover what I paid for it, and partly because her case of early macular degeneration would probably make it unavailable to her. So it's a decision to be made carefully, and one should be honest with oneself. If you are visually handicapped, or if you lack an obsession with the English language, there are 'digest condensed' dictionaries which would drive me to tears but which might completely satisfy you... I can only say that I'm happy as a clam with my 'ultimate dictionary....'
on January 6, 2001
If you love words, their meanings and origins, (and you've got a few dollars to spare and have got the shelf space), you've just got to get yourself a hardcopy set of the OED.
With the world of words rapidly going on-line, this definitive 20-volume lexicon of the English language will in a generation or so almost certainly become a collector's item if not a museum piece.
The OED is an incredible record of 19th and 20th Century Anglophone civilization, and deserves to become a treasured heirloom by our grandchildren and further generations in this new Millennium.
Dictionaries are much more than spellcheckers and crossword puzzle solvers. A dictionary like the OED has its real power and value in its use as an etymological tool. It's the origin of words and where they were first used that gives us a fundamental understanding of our language.
For lovers of Shakespeare there are references to words first appearing in his works on almost every page of the OED. A great on-line project would be to hyperlink a "Complete Works" of the Bard to the OED with all the non-common words he uses.
One word of warning to book lovers and potential owners of the OED ---- Make sure your four feet of shelf space is well shielded from direct sunlight. Those gorgeous royal blue fly-covers will fade very quickly if over exposed to UV.
If you were given the choice of what books you could take to that hypothetical desert island, the OED would have to be the linguaphiles choice. It is the perfect encapsulation and guide to what our language and culture is all about.
As a footnote you have to admire that quirky but subtle British humour that shines through even in the serious world of dictionary publishing. Check out the spines of Volumes VII and XVII where they are indexed with the first and last word in each volume.
In Volume VII we have " Hat -- Intervacuum ". Is the OED subtly telling us what lurks under a Stetson? Volume XVI is indexed from " Soot -- Styx'. Is this evidence that there is a hot and smoky welcome on the other side of that river between here and hell?
on December 17, 2002
I was never a perspicacious cognoscenti of sonorous locutions, but with this lexicon, I've become quite magniloquent. Now, I look up words with great alacrity! Just as masticating sustenance is a quotidian routine, we should also edify ourselves to the argot of bombastic schmoes frequently.
on November 20, 2000
As other reviewers have said so clearly, this dictionary is a treat for anybody who writes, reads, thinks or speaks English. Its monumental enough that I haven't even sounded its depths. So far I use it for the odd words that I come across in readings, occasionally my trusty Arden Shakespeare's don't have a definition that I need, and this is the only dictionary that covers everything. In several years of use I still don't use its best feature, the quotations. It's too much for me yet, I'm not ready to look for the shades of meaning in a word in the 16th century; the right idiom of another time. One day I'll be ready for that.
But the question for the prospective purchaser is, which version? First I bought the CDROM, luckily the OLD version of the software, which is wonderful. It's good enough, why did they have to change it to this new, horrid, fake web browser version? Please OUP, bring back the original OED Windows software for people. Anyhow, now I own the 20 volume set, but I don't own the 2 volume "eye strain" version, though I've spent time with it in libraries.
My advice is, if you can spend the three to four hundred dollars, get the CDROM instead of the 2 volume set. The new CDROM software sounds pretty bad, but at least with this you can actually read the text, and get the full search facility. I use it as my spell checker, the "*" regex style searching is wonderful. I know how a misspelled word begins and ends, and the OED does the rest. Its also fun sometimes to do searches based on author, or find words based on time, to see how words filtered out into writing.
Now, if you can spend more than that, the 20 volume set is the one to get. The computer version simply doesn't lend itself to browsing, or to lookup while your reading (its too jarring to go to a computer and look up a word while in the easy chair reading.) But the bound version is so sensual, and beautiful, and while it takes a bit longer to find your word (but not much longer, especially considering the unergonomic act of starting the computer, starting the software etc) it's the best overall version. The best thing is that you can easily take in the whole definition of a word. On the computerized version, it's too difficult to see the map of the senses. They do have an outline mode, but it doesn't work for me. Seeing it all written out on a big page makes it really easy to see all the different meanings of a word and how they relate.
So which should you buy? The ultimate (if it's important and you have money enough) get both the CDROM and the 20 volume bound set. Next best, the 20 volume version. After that, get the CDROM, and if you don't have a computer (but then how would you be reading this?) get the 2 volume set. If money is tight, most libraries have it in the reference section; at least go to your local branch and treat yourself to an hour of browsing the Dictionary.
on July 11, 2002
My new compact OED is back in its box awaiting to be returned for credit. I've never experienced such mixed emotions over a book purchase before. However, I must concur with the other reviews that advise saving up for the 20-volume set instead (or just purchasing the 2-volume "Shorter Oxford Dictionary", if money or space is a problem). This compact micrographic edition is indeed a terrific buy for those with the eyes/patience for it and who merely want to occasionally look up an obscure word. However, the greatest enjoyment I derive from reference books is browsing through them. Thus, the compact OED is definitely _not_ a good browsing book. I began to develop a sick headache after only 15 minutes of perusal. By the way, I found that any one of my four large magnifying glasses worked better than the one supplied with the book-- but I still got eyestrain and a headache (In case you're wondering if I am vision-impaired::: I have excellent vision and do *not* normally utilize magnifying glasses for reading but only for certain hobbies requiring extreme scrutinizing of very minute detail, etc). As far as this edition is concerned, nine pages squeezed onto one page is less than a user-friendly format, to put it mildly. I have not personally seen the first version of the compact OED but its purportedly having just four pages reproduced onto one large page sounds like a vastly better design and a good compromise, even though it does require the two volumes. I feel that the publisher was quite foolish to alter the previous configuration to this one frustrating, eye-vexing volume. Well, we live and learn.
on December 8, 2003
Lots of great reviews here of content, which of course can't be surpassed. The caveats about the print size are useful as well -- it is small. And the thing is as big as a tank. All that said, the one volume edition has an important advantage, besides cost, over any other edition of the real thing (ie, non-abridged): it's one volume! When I look at this thing, which is often and for long periods of time (without any real bother because of print size), I don't really want to stay confined to one or a few volumes. I often find myself wanting to jump around a lot. For that purpose the 20 volume full-size version is far more unwieldy than this monster -- it's easier to deal with one big volume than 8 or 10 open books, which STILL won't contain something I want to look at, which means another trip to the bookshelf (not that it's so far away; it's just much less hassle to simply turn a bunch of pages). Except for the surgical strike use as a reference for a specific word, the electronic editions can't compare.
on October 1, 2001
Everyone who is seriously interested in studying and understanding English, of whatever kind and whatever period, should have this book. Anyone who is a PROFESSIONAL scholar of English MUST have it in order to carry out research, or even proper teaching. There is no equivalent to the OED, which is far more comprehensive than anything one might seek to compare it with. And this cheap edition is excellent value. I myself cannot use it without a magnifying glass, but that is only a minor inconvenience. The print is excellent for what it is, and not only is the price of the book low, but it is much handier to use than any other version of the OED.
The second edition (which this is) incorporates a fair bit of new material, but much more often on very recent words than old or "perennial" ones: for a reader like myself, chiefly interested in older words or older meanings of words still current, the essential work was in essence done, already, for the first edition.
A disappointing feature of the second (1991) edition (here under review) is that the opportunity was NOT used to do supplementary work in areas in which the OED's information had always been deficient. This is notably the case when one looks for explanations of words, or senses of words, held "indecent" at the time the original dictionary was compiled. Anyone who wishes to find out what e.g. bawdy quibbles in Shakespeare mean will have to look farther afield: the best (but very expensive and in some ways hard-to-use) book would be Gordon Williams's *Dictionary of Sexual Language amd Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature*, but Eric Partridge's *Shakespeare's Bawdy* is often helpful also, and much cheaper. But a good deal of work in this area still remains to be done: see e.g. Joost Daalder and Antony Telford Moore: "*Mandrakes* and *Whiblins* in *The Honest Whore*" (*Studies in Philology*, Fall 1997, 494-507). Another area where the OED is not strong is that of proverbs and sayings, for which one needs to consult e.g. *The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs*.
But to say that the OED is not complete is not to suggest that it often lets one down. It does not, and especially its work on the HISTORY of words (their etymology, developing meanings, etc.) will never be replaced, and provides help which simply cannot be found anywhere else. Obviously, one will never regret owning this monumental, informative and stimulating work.
Readers should NOT assume that an abridged version will be an adequate replacement or only leave out inessentials: it is "the complete article" one should buy, nothing less.
The history of the creation of the OED is a fascinating subject by itself. A book offering great insight into its main lexicographer, James Murray, is *Caught in the Web of Words*, by Elisabeth Murray, which is well worth reading. - Joost Daalder, Professor of English, Flinders University (South Australia)
on January 9, 2001
The book I'll be clutching on my deathbed, in all probability. Truly magnificent in it's completeness. An abridged version defeats the purpose, as far as I'm concerned, and while I might opt for the full set once I have my own 2-story floor-to-ceiling oak-paneled library, for now I much prefer to be able to hold the equivalent of 10 volumes in my hand at a time.
Aside from the obvious depth of this dictionary, it's greatest benefits are the examples of usage drawn from throughout printed history.
If you've ever been disgusted after being unable to find a word in some other dictionary, and thought to yourself, "What self-respecting dictionary doesn't have (insert sought word here)!", I can assure you that it will never happen again if you get this book.
If you're thinking that the magnifying glass business is unworkable or unwieldy, think again. You've basically got 4 pages on each (oversize) page. For quick reading, I can do without the magnifying glass. For digging deep into the definition, it works like a charm.
on October 10, 2000
I own the "Compact" edition of the OED, and to be perfectly frank there are problems with this particular edition. There are nine pages of the original dictionary reproduced on each page of the compact edition, and it is at times difficult to read. A very fine magnifier is included with the volume but if you have vision problems you may still want to think about other options.
That being said, I still give this book the highest possible rating. The advantages of owning a complete OED trumps any asthetic problems the volume might have. By owning an unabridged OED, you have in your hands the finest dictionary in the world and the ultimate tool for writing and enjoying the english language. I never believed I would ever say this, but I actually do read the dictionary for fun. It is simply that amazing.
Further, the price makes this the most inexepensive OED on the market, cheaper than the terrible CD-Rom and of course less expensive than the 20 volume set. Now is the time to get the OED.
To sum up, if you want any old dictionary, find something cheaper and smaller. If you want a book you will someday give to your grandchildren, to watch them enjoy as you have, buy this book.