Words On The Web: www.oed.com

What better site to start a feature on language sites on the web than with www.oed.com. The Oxford English Dictionary is, without question, the greatest English language resource either online or off.

The OED provides definitions for over half a million words. It includes 2.5 million quotations demonstrating word usage and historical examples of changes in spelling and form. The OED is the fundamental resource for anyone serious about words and language.

The online edition of the dictionary consists of the second print edition, plus the three volumes of the Additions Series, and continual updates from the third edition as it is written, starting with the letter M. Access is via the web, with a subscriber able to enter his password from any computer with web access.

Features on the site include the ability to email and print entries. But the greatest feature is the search capability. You can conduct a quick search of headwords to identify entries. Or you can conduct advanced searches of particular parts of entries, such as the usage quotations, or even a full-text search. Complete Boolean functionality is provided. The search is flexible, easy to configure, powerful, and very fast.

Navigation through the site is also fast and intuitive. Although I did have some difficulty finding the bibliographic information.

Lest we seem too enthusiastic, the OED is not without its faults. For one, the OED is based on British English. It has a distinct bias toward British usage, sense, and pronunciation. American, Canadian, and Australian dialects are given comparatively short shrift. This is not a fault, but it is a bias that must be taken into account. Even given this bias, though, the OED is so huge that it contains more information on American usage than most American dictionaries.

Another limitation of the OED is caused by the fact that much of the dictionary is around a century old. The online version contains the latest updates, but these account for only a small percentage of entries. It is largely a Victorian dictionary.

The biggest drawback however is price. Access to www.oed.com is expensive. Individual access costs $550/year. Institutional pricing goes up from there. If you don’t have access through an institution, the cost is prohibitive.

The good news on the cost front, however, is that individuals can get access through membership to the Quality Paperback Book Club, www.qpb.com. QPB provides access to the online OED as a membership benefit. There is no additional charge—you just have to buy the number of books necessary to fulfill your member quota.

Ease of access and the search capability make www.oed.com an essential resource for any word maven. It is the single best site on the web for words. The OED isn’t a perfect resource, but it’s as close to perfect as you can get.

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