An interesting Financial Times article by Lorien Kite (the FT Books Editor, who “worked at the OED as a keyboarder for a few months after graduating in the mid-1990s”—I am struck by the name Lorien, and can only assume his parents were Tolkien fans); it’s full of interesting tidbits (“the third edition is expected to have doubled in overall length”) and exciting prospects: Michael Proffitt, the new chief editor, talks “of the potential to embed OED content in ereaders so the meaning of a word such as ‘plisky’ (a trick or an awkward situation) in Wuthering Heights (1847), not found in most dictionaries of current usage, could be revealed to the reader as he or she went along.” I heartily agree with Charlotte Brewer, author of Treasure-House of the Language: The Living OED, who “is critical of a decision in 2010 to merge the dynamic third edition with OED2, obscuring the differences between the two. ‘Because [OED2] was electronically searchable it was a fantastic source for historical inquiry of every sort, not just linguistic scholarship, but they’ve pulled the plug on it,’ she says. ‘It makes you weep.’” That it does. Still a magnificent resource, though. (Thanks for the link, Paul!)


  1. What problems exactly does the merge cause? Is it that the definitions themselves were of historical value, and now it’s impossible to tell which were written in 1913 and which in 2013? (I know, I know, I should read Brewer’s book…)

  2. Yes, it was of great interest to be able to compare what was known about a word in 1913 (or whenever) and what is known now (or rather, was known at the more recent date of the new entry). I honestly don’t know what they gained by eliminating this source of harmless pleasure and antiquarian knowledge.

  3. Note that the OED2 definitions themselves are still available on a per-word basis by clicking the “Previous version” link on any OED3 word page. It’s just that there is no way to run an OED2-specific search.

  4. Ah, I’d forgotten that! Thanks, I feel better now.

  5. I imagine the development effort required to switch that functionality back on is quite small; in which case it might well get done if enough people ask for it.

  6. Electric Dragon says:

    mollymooly: it’s frequently easy to imagine that effort to do something is small, where it actually turns out to be a massive pain in the neck. For example, the old versions may not have the metadata that the new edition has. They might be stored in a different database, or archived in a different format: especially pages updated to the 3rd Ed before that move to a new content management system.

  7. If I remember right, until a few years ago one used to be able to see the pre-OED2 version from OED Online (i.e. without the Supplements integrated). That’s not possible at all now – one can only regress to OED2 from the revised entries. That means there isn’t any electronic version of OED1 available (outside a 1987 CD Rom that few people have and no one can operate). OED2 on CD-ROM (with additions, from 1994) is still available I believe.

  8. Correction: make that OED2 on CDROM from 2009 – the one that still works on Windows.

  9. The OED1 is available in full in various forms (but not searchably, alas) from the Internet Archive.

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