Oxford's Latest Adds New Meaning to the Phrase 'Look It Up'

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), January 26, 2003 | Go to article overview

Oxford's Latest Adds New Meaning to the Phrase 'Look It Up'


Byline: BOB KEEFER The Register-Guard

THE NEW SHORTER Oxford English Dictionary, all two volumes and 3,984 pages of it, has been around the house for some time now since its publication late last year. Need any up-to-date definitions?

The dictionary has plenty - about 98,000 words defined in all - and endeavors to document the entire English language since the beginning of the 18th century. Among the 3,500 new terms you'll find discussed in the fifth edition - the fourth came out in 1993 - are Prozac, road rage, parallel universe, Taliban, line dancing, Naderism, DVD and chick lit. Very up to date, if not quite trendy.

The two-book set is beautiful (at $150, it ought to be) and offers an unusually clean page design that makes it much easier to read than many other reference works.

But what makes this dictionary even more fun than the average Webster's is that - much like its 13-volume granddaddy, the Oxford English Dictionary, whose incredible bulk gives this dictionary its "shorter" quality - the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary adds examples of real-life usage.

Definitions are extracted from actual historical quotations; to be included each word must have appeared in print at least five times, in five different sources, over at least a five-year period.

Thus, when you look up the word "save," you find not only that it means, among other things, to "deliver, rescue or protect," but that it dates from Middle English and by the mid-18th century might also mean "be in time for."

And you get examples of its usage by such authors as Evelyn Waugh, who once wrote, as the dictionary notes: "I'd been worrying about my soul and whether I was saved."

Among the nearly 7,000 writers whose works were used as source material for the new dictionary are Lane County's own Barry Lopez and the late Ken Kesey.

Look up "gawk," for example, and you'll find its definition, as a verb, is to "stare stupidly (or) gape." The dictionary then cites as an example this passage from Kesey's first blockbuster novel, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest":

"I want you workin', not gawkin' around like some big useless cow!"

Likewise, the word "seam" is defined, among its other meanings, as "a join, line, furrow, groove, etc.," as in this passage, also taken from "Cuckoo's Nest":

"A seam runs across his nose ... where someone laid him a good one in a fight."

Other writers whose historical use of the word "seam" are noted in the new dictionary include Saul Bellow, William Cowper and George Orwell. …

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