It has finally happened. The last great bastion of the English language has sequestered itself into elitism. The Holy OED, the Oxford English Dictionary on-line, is now available only by paid subscription. What was the ideal reference for writers has lowered itself into the abyss of filthy lucre and restricted access so effectively used by on-line porn. Elite and debased? Indeed.
For an individual to have unrestricted access to the OED site (previously free access was limited) the annual rate is $295. The OED is also available by a monthly subscription for $29.95 per month. According to the site “this is a great value with no commitment”. What they don’t post is that the monthly rate totals $359.40 over a year, an additional $64.40 over the annual rate.
I know the economy is bad. I know everyone is hurting. But the OED? Good heavens!
I will miss the OED. It was a great source for deriving a comparative definition. I’d like to give an example, but I can’t access the OED. Many times the British definition for a given word differed from the American definition. The ability to derive a larger, perhaps more specific definition, allowed me to expand my vocabulary and syntax, hopefully creating a fuller, more robust text.
Now I am left with the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Parochial American, good, but without the fullness of the OED. I suppose that there’s always Dictionary.com and a few others, but it just isn’t the same. I’m afraid the free and easy access I once had to the OED on-line has spoiled me for other on-line resources or, even worse, dictionaries in print that are obsolete before they’re shipped.
What seems like a thousand years ago, I remember that the school library had a huge dictionary that was so important and special that it had its own stand and occupied a place of honor in front of the stacks where the librarian could watch over it. Students actually waited in line to access it. True, it was a very short line because we were still very short students, but to my young mind that dictionary held all the secrets of language. It could tell me about anything. And it may very well be that it was from that dictionary that I became so preoccupied with books and the desire to write.
What I didn’t realize at that time was that the massive dictionary was probably years old and it didn’t contain many contemporary words and technical terms. I also didn’t realize until much later that language is dynamic, ever changing and evolving in response to the cultures it serves. As an adult, however, I do realize those things and that’s what makes unrestricted access to on-line dictionaries and references so important.
The world changes and our language changes with it, but in order to understand and use our language effectively a writer needs to understand the word, not just how to use it. Understanding the word includes its derivation and historical applications. Those are the things that give the word life, the language life, and in turn, give our writings life.
I mourn the loss of the OED from my list of references. It will be sorely missed.
If you have favorite references, perhaps one that might help fill the gap for me, why don’t you share them by selecting the Leave a comment link (below) and leaving a comment. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks.