Editors of definitive dictionaries

The editor is hard at work in 1984.

The Eleventh Edition is the definitive edition,’ he said. ‘We’re getting the language into its final shape – the shape it’s going to be in when nobody speaks anything else. When we’ve finished with it, people like you will have to learn it all over again. You think, I dare say, that our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We’re destroying words – scores of them, hundreds of them every day. We’re cutting the language down to the bone. The Eleventh Edition won’t contain a single word that will become obsolete before the year 2050.’

This is Syme, working on the eleventh edition of the Newspeak Dictionary. In recent weeks the good people at OUP have been busy launching the new OED online. In his introduction to the new service, John Simpson, Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, uses an interesting choice of examples to point to one new feature of the new dictionary.

Perhaps the most important new feature involves the Historical Thesaurus to the OED, published in book form in 2009. The entire text is now integrated with the OED Online, so that you can follow semantic links throughout the dictionary. Go to the OED’s entry for utopia, for example, and follow the Thesaurus links to the entries for heaven (Old English), Cockaigne (c1305), El Dorado (1596), nonesuch (a1618), Fiddler’s Green (1825), never-never land (1900), the Big Rock Candy Mountain (1917), etc. ‘Utopia’ means different things to different people!

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949

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