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The Oxford English Dictionary (20 Volume Set) (Vols 1-20) Hardcover – March 30, 1989

ISBN-13: 978-0198611868 ISBN-10: 0198611862 Edition: 2nd
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Editorial Reviews Review

The Oxford English Dictionary has long been considered the ultimate reference work in English lexicography. Compiled by the legendary editor James Murray and a staff of brilliant philologists and lexicographers (not to mention one homicidal maniac), the OED began as a a supplement to existing dictionaries, so that, as one lexicographer put it, "every word should be made to tell its own story." Enthusiastic readers sent Murray definitions and examples on identical slips of paper in response to a letter of appeal in 1879. By the time the last volume was published in 1928, the dictionary had swelled from 4 to 10 volumes containing over 400,000 entries. In the years since, the staff of the OED has continued to keep pace with our ever-evolving language, and today the dictionary weighs in at a whopping 20 volumes. The great joy of this dictionary lies in its extensive cross-references and word etymologies, which can run a full page or more. These features not only make the OED the most comprehensive and authoritative dictionary of the English language, but a delight to browse.

What writers like most about the Oxford English Dictionary

"I’m tempted to say that I love the OED because it contains every word in Middlemarch and To the Lighthouse, minus the unnecessary ones. I suspect, however, that that’s probably a familiar joke in dictionary circles."--Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours
"The Oxford English Dictionary lets me follow the roots of words into the loamy depths of language. It lets me feel the abiding, generative life in it, the mysteries of its persistence and renewal."--Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Home
"The OED is one of my favorite ways of avoiding writing, which under other circumstances can be tortuous. But not with the OED. To begin, I look up a word. Then I get interested in its derivation, which suggests another word, another derivation, another word--Wow!"--Jeanne Marie Laskas, author of The Exact Same Moon


Listen: the OED is priceless. The only disadvantage it's got is that the entries are so interesting and chocked with subsidiary info that sometimes what was originally supposed to be a quick one-word dash to the dictionary becomes a two-hour perusal of cross-references and ramifications and etymologies and the sorts of illustrative sentences that make your saliva flow with sheer interest. -- David Foster Wallace, novelist

Rummaging through the OED is as addicting as any narcotic. I ordered it originally to sell in my bookshop because I thought it would make a substantial statement about the quality of my books. Within a couple of months, though, I decided I treasured it too much to sell and took it home to keep. -- Thomas Brennan, owner, The Book Review, Atlanta, GA.

"Being the most expansive and exhaustive not to mention the most fun of all English dictionaries, its the finest testament I know to everything I love (and, all right, occasionally hate) about words."--Michael Cunningham (celebrated author of The Hours)
"Word lovers, the gods are smiling upon you. It no longer takes a small mortgage, or at least a trip to the library, to plumb the Oxford English Dictionary--the big one, not the abridged training-wheels versions. For its 75th anniversary since the last volume of the First Edition was published, Oxford University Press has knocked down the prices big time."--Chicago Sun-Times
"With its exhaustive definitions and precise etymology, the Oxford English Dictionary is absolutely indispensable to our work here at Jeopardy!"--Gary Johnson, Jeopardy! Supervising Producer/Writer
"The richest people in the world are those who have the OED on their shelves. Here is the greatest treasure of words waiting to be assembled into fiery tracts and rants, literary novels, histories, sagas, comic poems, exposes, polemics, tall tales and learned treatises, kids' books, advert copy, reports on busted dams and declarations, all the expressions of a hundred different cultures. And the sturdy boxes in which the dictionary comes are each the perfect size for a manuscript. So there it is, all the raw material a writer needs for a lifetime of work."--Annie Proulx
"Since my Milton teacher sent me to the OED at the start of my college career, that vast and virtuous monument has been an almost daily companion. It's far the most important of my reference aids; and of all things for a dictionary, it's proved likewise a steady source of surprise and delight."--Reynolds Price
"When I first got the OED I read it through from A to Z. I wondered which word had the greatest coverage, and in Volume VIII (Q-Sh), I found it: 'set.' More than a hundred and twenty meanings were given for the verb 'set' used alone; another thirty or so when used in conjunction with various prepositions and adverbs (set aside, set about, set apart, etc.). I got the feeling that this little three-letter word might be the most useful and versatile in the entire English language."--Oliver Sacks
"The OED has been to me a teacher, a companion, a source of endless discovery. I could not have become a writer without it. "--Anthony Burgess
"No similar work, not even the great Lexicon of the brothers Grimm, is comparable to [the OED] in magnitude, accuracy, or completeness. It is one of the monuments to the patient persistence of scholarship and one of the most sterling illustrations of that strange piety which only scholars can understand."--The Nation
"No one who reads or writes seriously can be without the OED."--The Washington Post
"In all probability, the greatest continuing work of scholarship that this century has produced."--Newsweek
"It is a remarkable work of scholarship, and must rank high among the wonders of the world of learning."--The Times Educational Supplement

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 22000 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2 edition (March 30, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198611862
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198611868
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 20 x 18 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (157 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #759,896 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

360 of 366 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Brucia on June 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This dictionary is unequalled (see the praise of all the other reviewers, with whom I agree regarding the quality of this reference). Beyond excellence loom are other issues, however: weight and legibility are the most obvious. My balance beam scale indicates that it weighs (approximately) 11-3/4 pounds (i.e. 5-1/3 kg). So when a reviewer says this edition is 'heavy' this is what he means.... Note that the dimensions (sometimes called 'big') are 3.89 inches x 17.55 inches x 11.21 inches.... As to legibility, I cannot find any mention of the point size, so I will be more subjective. I am 55 years old and I wear progressive lens (in other words I'm both farsighted and nearsighted!). In average light if I take my glasses off I can read the definitions WITHOUT the magnifying glass, though the words sometimes alternately blur and sharpen, so it's sometimes a stretch. I find it quite easy to read WITH the magnifying glass, especially under a lamp. True, the tiny print means it's not like reading a John LeCarre paperback, but this is a * dictionary *, for Pete's sake! I use it to solve linguistics puzzles. Tonight I was stumped by the words "theophoric" and "enclitic" (both in reference to scribal practices involving the copying of the Hebrew Bible). So I lugged the monster down from my bookcase (where it lies flat!), skipped pulling out the magnifying glass, and looked up the definitions, pausing as my eyes would go in and out of focus (I can be quite lazy when I'm lying prone on the carpet and don't want to get up to get the magnifier!). I am absolutely happy with my purchase. My wife would not be, partly because she would be shocked to discover what I paid for it, and partly because her case of early macular degeneration would probably make it unavailable to her.Read more ›
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159 of 162 people found the following review helpful By Dev Ramcharan on August 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Colonials" like me grew up in the shadow of this Everest of scholarship and the Himalayan series founded on its contents. And now, if we choose to, we can actually own the set, in its 2nd Edition. This is a very desirable acquisition.
Perhaps you worry that it might be an unwise purchase. We live in the age of the CD ROM, so why buy the printed volumes? The language seems to operate like a wheel rolling down a muddy slope picking up all manner of accretions as it progresses downhill. Will a work like this, then, become irrelevant? I think not. The citation formula used will always be relevant for readers interested in historical usage. The entire work constitutes, in a way, a history of the English Language, as well as a social history of English speaking peoples from the 12th century through to the end of the 20th century. Some scholars say it is unduly biased in the direction of English Victorian values, with a creeping pre-disposition toward a prescriptive rather than a descriptive stance on definitions. The compilers seem to want to position it to be a final arbiter on "Correct Usage". Who cares? It is manna in the wilderness to anyone who loves the language, who likes to browse, and is not stimulated by the inanity of television. If Political Correctness is the filter through which all literature must pass for you, you'll probably not read very much of value, anyway.
No other dictionary is so richly enjoyable as a work to read on its own. One does not go to the OED just to find the meaning of a word, one is beguiled, on opening a volume, to read many pages about all kinds of words. You'll never walk into the British Museum or the Louvre just to look at a single piece of Art and leave having looked only at that one piece.
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100 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Nixta on February 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've wanted one of these beasts since I was about 12 and saw one at a friend's house. Quite aside from the content, it's beautiful. A work of love and tremendous labour.

I'm surprised by those that complain that it's hard to lug around. It belongs on a writing desk or its own plinth. It should never move more than 2 feet. Oxford University Press publish many abridged versions that cater to the more mobile readership.

Remember, this is a 20 volume book squished into one (more on that in a moment). The print will be small. I have nearly perfect eyesight though and having arrived off a long-haul flight the other day to find this waiting for me, I must admit that tiredness did indeed necessitate use of the magnifying glass. However, I just tried again and can read it just fine in good light without any artificial aid.

Now. Amazon. Dear dear me. When one pays $217 (the price has gone up in the past couple of days, I see) for a delicate gem of a book (remember, you started life as booksellers, after all), even though that book should cost nearly twice as much, one does not expect some intern to have removed it from its packaging, and stuck two security tags in it. One on a page over the tiny exquisite print (a delicate operation to remove without apparent damage). One in the box at the back. Nor indeed does one expect this process to have folded the accompanying guidebook in two. Furthermore (and worse still) a number of the pages of the dictionary itself had been folded en-masse, presumably also during this clumsy tagging process.
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