Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 147 / DECEMBER 1992 / PAGE S12

The Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition) on CD-ROM. (data base) (Software Review) (Compute's Getting Started with Multimedia Applications) (Evaluation)
by David English

What defines 616,500 words, contains 2.4 million illustrative quotations, and has recently taken a dramatic weight loss from 137 pounds to less than half a pound? That's right, it's the Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition) on CD-ROM (Oxford University Press, 200 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016; 212-679-7300; $895). The greatest dictionary ever printed--in this case, printed in twenty large volumes--is now available on a single CD-ROM--and at one third the price of the printed edition.

An earlier CD-ROM version was released in 1988, based on the 1933 edition of the first OED. It contained a total of 44 million words (the OED2 CD contains a total of 59 million words). This latest CD-ROM adds the four printed supplements that were published from 1972 through 1986, as well as the 5,000 new words, extensive revisions, and additional citations that became part of the printed OED2 in 1989.

Why spend $895 for the OED2 CD when you can buy an inexpensive paperback dictionary or even a smaller electronic dictionary for much less? There are two main reasons. First, the OED2 is a much more complete dictionary. The second edition adds recently coined words and phrases, such as CD-ROM, laptop, download, leveraged buyout, brain-dead, boom box, passive smoking, and rainbow coalition.

Not only does it have many more words than other dictionaries, its definitions are more precise; most words include a generous selection of useful citations, with illustrative quotations that show you the word in context. (Not surprisingly, the author with the most citations is Shakespeare--with 33,150.)

The second reason for buying an OED2 CD is its excellent Windows interface. You can quickly and easily search by defined word (called headword), by quotation (searching by date, author, title, or textual context), by etymology (an account of the history of a word), or by definition.

Searches are extremely fast, especially when you consider the size of the material, and they can be augmented with the built-in query language. For example, you could find all the adverbs that don't end in ly, find a defined word from a definition by searching for a particular phrase in the definition, and list all the words that have entered the language from French.

Browsing is equally rewarding. If you see a word in a definition you would like to know more about, select the word and press the Xref (cross-reference) button.

The OED2 CD gets my vote as the best CD-ROM application for anyone who works with and cares about words. As Anthony Burgess reported in London's The Observer on June 21,1992, "This transference of the great OED to a metallic beer mat is one of the major technological achievements of the century."