As I go through the dictionary from A to Z and find an interesting word a day at 365 Word Quest, I realize the importance of my hard copy. But I am in a growing minority. Soon, even the Oxford English Dictionary may only be available in digital format.
This week the publisher said so many people prefer to look up words using its online product that it's uncertain whether the 126-year-old dictionary's Third Edition will be printed on paper at all.
The digital version of the Oxford English Dictionary now gets 2 million hits a month from subscribers, who pay $295 a year for the service in the U.S. In contrast, the current printed edition — a 20-volume, 750-pound ($1,165) set published in 1989 — has sold about 30,000 sets in total.
The article reports, "It's just one more sign that the speed and ease of using Internet reference sites — and their ability to be quickly updated — are phasing out printed reference books. Google and Wikipedia are much more popular research tools than the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and dozens of free online dictionaries offer word meanings at the click of a mouse. Dictionary.com even offers a free iPhone application."
The publisher said, "The print dictionary market is just disappearing. It is falling away by tens of percent a year."
His comment related primarily to the full-length dictionary, but he said the convenience of the electronic format also is affecting demand for its shorter dictionaries.The dictionary was first published in parts starting in 1884. It kept growing for decades until the complete text went out in 1928. It was the first comprehensive English dictionary since Samuel Johnson's "A Dictionary of the English Language" was published in 1755, and has since evolved to become the accepted authority on the meaning and history of words.
A team of 80 lexicographers are preparing the third edition of the dictionary, which is just one-quarter finished. Oxford University Press hasn't yet given a date for when the third edition will be ready.
I have the two volume microprint version of the Oxford English Dictionary which is a slimmed down version of the 20 volume set published in 1989. I still get out the rectangular magnifying glass on occasion to look up a word etymology.
By the way did you know that the word set has the most meanings: 58 as a noun, 126 as a verb? It covers 23 pages.