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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.
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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....'
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on January 6, 2001
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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?
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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.
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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.
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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.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon May 18, 2013
There are so many cons to a purchase like this. The book is unwieldy: it is large and heavy. Your desk would have to be three times the standard size to open it comfortably. The print is small. Ants need glasses to read it.

'Compact' is not the word I would use to describe it. Basically it takes all 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary, which to buy eliminates your kid's college fund, and it puts it in a vice and squeezes into one volume. Nine pages Oxford English Dictionary = One page Compact Oxford English Dictionary. What is cute and maybe slightly sadistic: the introductory pages have even been condensed too. There is nothing in this book that hasn't been shrunk!

They provide a magnifying glass. It is heavy and it takes the print from ant scrawl to Winnipeg horsefly scrawl. If you are in your 30's and 40's it is doable. But in your 50's you need to take off your glasses and put your nose next to the glass as you whirl it around the page.

So what makes this dictionary so gosh darn fun? You feel like Merlin ruminating over an esoteric book of spells. You have your magnifying glass and book out on the kitchen table. It is in the early hours and the house isn't awake. You open it up and glide your glass over the pages stopping to here and there. Pausing. Thinking. Soaking in words and roots you never knew existed. You visit old friends and learn something new. You make new friends and try to remember their names and their meanings but you know you won't before the glass slides over to a new word.

Do you have options?. Sure you can buy the Oxford Dictionary in 20 volumes plus supplements. It is rather like putting a baby grand piano in your house and having to brace the floor. Make sure the shelves can take the weight. You can buy it on CD-
ROM but the reviews are lukewarm. And you can buy it as a monthly or yearly online subscription that is equivalent to buying the 'compact version' every year.

So why buy an ant scrawl dictionary that comes with a bulbous archaic magnifying glass that ouijis over the pages? Because I haven't had such a good time in a book since I can remember.
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on June 14, 2011
This is one of my absolute favourite possessions, and I've only had it for about a week. It's true, the print is tiny, but with the magnifier it's perfectly readable (although you need to have the right light, I find - if there's too much glare on the magnifier, that can make it a strain to read, especially the quotes which are printed in a smaller font than the definitions).

My dictionary came with one slight imperfection: a page had extra paper which did not get cut properly, and was folded over. This is something I've noticed before in Oxford's books (the Oxford Shakespeare), but it may not be uncommon in modern factory bookmaking. Anyway, I cut off the extra paper as evenly as I could, and now it's barely noticeable. I'm not going to let a beautiful, $300 book go to waste because of one slight cosmetic imperfection (and I consider myself a bibliophile).

My favourite thing about this dictionary is its comprehensiveness. Any page you open it to will likely have words you've never encountered before, and the known words have more definitions than any smaller dictionary will. My second favourite thing about it is its compactness. It's a huge, heavy book, but it contains the complete OED and it's much more compact than 20 volumes. Also, sometimes it's just nicer to read off of paper than off a computer screen (unless your eyesight isn't good and the tiny font is undesirable, but as someone who is young and wears glasses, I find that with the magnifier it doesn't bother me at all).

My advice for using this would be to find a table for it, near your desk, and really use it. Don't just let it sit there collecting dust, make it so that you can and will use it all the time. I have mine sitting on a table next to my desk, not in the box/holder-thing it comes in, with the magnifier sitting on top of it. When I want to use it, I can open it up on the table, or move it over to the desk (ideally it would have a better table all to itself). I use it frequently, and it's now my primary dictionary. I use my smaller one-volume Oxford Dictionary of English (I call it the ODE, as opposed to the OED) when I'm in a hurry or I don't want to get sidetracked, and for usage notes. But the OED is an amazing resource and educational tool, and I'm delighted that it's made available in this compact and relatively economical format.
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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.
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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)
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