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on June 19, 2001
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. So it's a decision to be made carefully, and one should be honest with oneself. If you are visually handicapped, or if you lack an obsession with the English language, there are 'digest condensed' dictionaries which would drive me to tears but which might completely satisfy you... I can only say that I'm happy as a clam with my 'ultimate dictionary....'
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on August 30, 2000
"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. Here is the great exhibition of the language, its gallery.
All speakers and students of the language are in Oxford's debt, and will forever be so. No dictionary comes close in comprehensiveness of coverage (its word count, i.e., the quantity of words defined, exceeds that covered in any other competing dictionary). This set, rightly, is the central jewel in OUP's crown of publications. If you're a writer, you can't afford not to purchase this set.
Legend has it that a new "improved" edition will be out some time between 2001 and 2003. I sense that the improvements will appeal particularly to the ultra-scholarly linguist/lexicographers among its readers. Improvements shall include the addition of citations that might, for instance, antedate the earliest citation shown in a previous edition. It might, however, not be utterly essential to you you to know, for example, that the first user of the term "Byronic" was Byron himself. The changes from the 2nd to the 3rd edition may be minimal, in print at least. Doubtless, there will be significant improvements to the search capability, appearance, and user friendliness of the software version. But, don't hesitate to purchase the printed 2nd edition. If you feel the CD ROM version is superior to the printed edition, this will boil down to whether or not you are a bibliophile. Nothing equals the tactile pleasure of the printed page, bound well. OED 2 is one of the handsomest printing jobs I've ever seen. The cloth binding is extremely rugged and well designed, elegant and solidly conservative in physical appearance. The paper is itself bright and smooth, the font/type clear and eminently readable. Even the dust jackets are beautiful, a real improvement over the previous design. "Additions" volumes (times 3) are available for anyone interested in the vocabulary of the 90s. The 3rd edition will integrate these into the main work. But, a dictionary in the hand is worth two in the planning stage. And the beautiful volumes of the 2nd edition are available from at what amounts to bargain price.
Buy this wonderful, beautifully produced and enduring work; it is a treasure for life that will never fail to impress you with the alluring beauty and quirky mutability of this most glorious of languages.
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on February 19, 2006
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. Fortunately, the book is so heavy and well made that the pages appear to have been rescued by gravity and a night on its side, but I'm nonetheless displeased as the guide still looks like it's accompanied me on a long train journey, stuffed into a trouser pocket and slept upon in the mid-day sun.

Tut tut.

I've seldom been more pleased with a book purchase though. I just wish Amazon had treated it a little better but: Pay money, get choice.

UPDATE: The photo is now accurate - here's what I had to say about it originally: Ah. Yes. The photos on the product page. Now, I should have done my research and perhaps realised that OUP no longer produce the two-volume edition and I was going to get a single volume. The photos here at Amazon showing two volumes with a drawer for the magnifying glass (to be honest, the bit I actually liked aged twelve) are out-of-date. This is a single volume edition with a loose magnifying glass that must find its own place to rest.
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on January 9, 2001
The book I'll be clutching on my deathbed, in all probability. Truly magnificent in it's completeness. An abridged version defeats the purpose, as far as I'm concerned, and while I might opt for the full set once I have my own 2-story floor-to-ceiling oak-paneled library, for now I much prefer to be able to hold the equivalent of 10 volumes in my hand at a time.
Aside from the obvious depth of this dictionary, it's greatest benefits are the examples of usage drawn from throughout printed history.
If you've ever been disgusted after being unable to find a word in some other dictionary, and thought to yourself, "What self-respecting dictionary doesn't have (insert sought word here)!", I can assure you that it will never happen again if you get this book.
If you're thinking that the magnifying glass business is unworkable or unwieldy, think again. You've basically got 4 pages on each (oversize) page. For quick reading, I can do without the magnifying glass. For digging deep into the definition, it works like a charm.
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on December 5, 2004
Those who, reading the below reviews, are unsure whether they should invest in the 2nd edition, or hold out for the 3rd, are advised that according to the official, the 3rd edition is as of this writing (late 2004) not expected to be completed until at least 2018, may run to 40+ volumes, and may or may not have a print edition. If it does, it will surely be priced and marketed only for the lavishly wealthy or for the few major research institutions that will at that point still value the luxury of print materials.
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on December 2, 2003
I have no complaints about the actual content of the book - this is by far the best dictionary in the world - but everyone should seriously consider whether they want to spend this much money to look at text the size of microfiche print. That isn't an exaggeration; each page actually looks like it has several of those little microfiche slides printed on it. Even with the magnifying glass, the print is incredibly tiny, and anyone at all far-sighted should stay away from this book.
Although I appreciate the efforts of the OED to put so much material into one book, the product is just too unwieldy - to hold, to read, to carry around. In addition to the print being tiny, the book is huge. It's nice as an object, but as a functional dictionary it proves to be rather inconvenient - especially if you don't have a nice big stand for it to rest on, which I don't.
I really dislike staring at a computer screen, and prefer to get a paper copy of any text if at all possible - but for the OED that isn't economically feasible. I didn't want the abridged version, and buying all twenty volumes is prohibitively expensive - so I really do recommend the CD Rom version or subscribing to the dictionary online if you have Internet access. You can't really browse in those, which is too bad, but you can't really browse while trawling around this Lilliputian thicket of letters with a magnifying glass either.
The electronic sources have the additional feature of being searchable by multiple terms, so you can find quotes from a particular author, or book - and many other things that aren't possible with paper.
Buy this if you only plan on dipping into it on rare occasions, and want a lovely object, but there are better options for people really hoping to use it as a dictionary.
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on October 23, 2005
It goes without saying that the OED has no equal. The content is a lexicographical masterpiece. The compact edition, though potentially unusable for those with poor vision, is the only practical format for this content.

I do have an issue with the quality of the book itself. My first copy was not quite in alphabetical order. The book was bound out of order, so that pages 2143-2238 were intermixed.

Amazon seemed eager to remedy the problem and sent me a second copy. This copy had a number of misprinted pages where the text ran off of the page. Also, some of the pages were partially glued together causing them to tear.

After this, I was effectively told to deal with it. Amazon refused to send a second replacement (this is their policy). Oxford University Press required me to pay shipping.

I chose to live with my first copy. It's still a fantastic reference, but considering its quality issues, I can rate it no better than average.
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on September 10, 2000
This is the zenith of dictionaries. Almost all words in the English language put in an appearance, with many of them getting extensive etymologies. The only catch is that the second edition merely compiled the multitude of previous volumes, so the quotes for which the OED is justly famous stop abruptly about 1900 for many of the entries. A new version is currently being prepared, but won't be totally ready until 2010 (internet users get the revised sections as they are completed). My other minor peeve is that they deem standard British usage to be standard world usage. The dictionary should ideally reflect world usage.
However, a discussion of the numerous versions is also in order. I got my Compact OED last Christmas after using all three versions. Below is a list of what I feel to be the pros and cons of each version.
Pros: the cheapest way to get your hands on the OED; it IS a book; it comes with an abridged version of the user's guide (but not the full thing unfortunately); nicely presented.
Cons: an electron microscope is a more appropriate reading device than a magnifying glass; it's HEAVY, man (so an investment in a table and a good reading light may be in order).
Pros: scalable font, fully searchable and ... um ... er ... that's it.
Cons: How they can get away with charging more for the CD ROM than the Compact paper edition is beyond me; it's not a book, is it (where's the tactility)?
20 Volume Set
Pros: Something to give to the grandkids; easy to read
Cons: Do you have a spare metre or so of shelf space?; even at a reduced price, it still costs three times as much as the compact edition (although the average cost per volume is VERY low).
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on June 15, 1999
As a volunteer reader for the OED [we're the people who supply the quotations that illustrate the usages of the words], I can let you in on a little secret. The next edition of this dictionary is not due out until 2010. The ne plus ultra of dictionaries.
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on September 1, 1998
This book is simply THE authority on the english language. It's the book to buy when you're not satisfied with just the definition, when you want to know everything about the word you're looking up. You can look through it for hours on end; it's just so interesting. The magnifying glass is really cool, too, and the users guide helps you learn about how to get the most out of your reference book. And, any book that uses 25 pages to thoroughly describe (and give usage examples of) the word "set" simply has to be good. Abecedarians and those searching for an erudite vocabulary should buy this book.
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