fter more than a century as the definitive authority on the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary may never be printed again. Due to the internet's devastating effects on printed dictionary use, says the Oxford University Press, the long-anticipated third edition of the massive tome will appear in electronic form only. While the online version of the dictionary, available to subscribers for $295 a year, receives 2 million visitors a month, the latest print version — the 1989 second edition, a 20-volume set which runs $1,165 — has only sold 30,000 sets to date. Should we mourn the loss of this classic reference book? The commentators weigh in:
Let's view this with equanimity: "No matter how you feel about books," says Jesus Diaz in Gizmodo, "this is very good news." It takes a massive amount of "production resources" to produce a 132-pound paper book like the second edition. And in the end, you have a product "that offers an inferior experience compared to the ease of use, speed, and convenience of the electronic version." Good riddance.
"Let's hope the print Oxford English Dictionary really dies"
Pity the naif who didn't see this coming: "Who would have thought free, instant technology would have killed a 130-pound, $1,165 set of reference books?" asks Megan Friedman in Time. "Oh, right, everyone." The real puzzle is why so many people pay nearly $300 a year for the online dictionary. "Hasn't anyone heard of Dictionary.com?"
"An online-only OED: Is this the end of printed dictionaries?"
Actually, this is auspicious: By going entirely online, says Mike Luttrell in TG Daily, the dictionary can break out of its shell as "a library artifact or a status symbol for the cultural elite." So, the end of its print edition might actually "be good for the OED." If only this could fend off the day "when nobody cares about correct spelling anymore and can just post random words on [his] blog without any sort of spell check. Oh, wait. Yeah, we're there already."
"It may be the end for printed dictionaries"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why I'm a pro-life liberal
- 31 TV shows to watch in 2014
- He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
- If a nuclear bomb exploded in downtown Washington, what should you do?
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why we can't stop procrastinating, according to science
- How Ukraine can fend off the Russians, in 7 simple steps
- These stunning travel photos remind us that we're all just amateurs with iPhones
- The contentious policy at the heart of Cliven Bundy's armed standoff with the government
- How conservatives learned to hate Hollywood
Subscribe to the Week