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March 15, 2000

Oxford English Dictionary on Web

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
LONDON -- Language purists no longer have to shuffle through 20 volumes of bound dictionary to look up one of nearly 640,000 words and phrases dissected in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The reference book known throughout the English-speaking world as an authority on language evolution is now a few computer key strokes away at http://www.oed.com.

Oxford University Press launched an online dictionary service Tuesday, charging individuals $550 for a yearly subscription and companies or institutions $795.

The OED traces word use through more than 2.4 million popular quotations by figures as varied as Shakespeare and U.S. film director Quentin Tarantino.

The second edition is also available on CD-ROM and in a 20-volume book set.

But the online version is the one that will be updated quarterly with at least 1,000 new and revised entries, the company said.

Oxford University Press is also investing $56 million on creating a third edition -- the first full revision since the dictionary was originally completed between 1884 and 1928.

Editors began revising at the letter "M," because by that point in the alphabet the original authors had achieved consistent labeling. Starting there would give the new editors the easiest style to follow. The new edition is to be completed in 2010.

The new words so far include "mack," which American rap star Ice Cube used to mean a seducer, and "mad cow disease" to describe the human form of the brain-wasting disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Others are "macoute," a Haitian term for a bad man, and "macoun," a Canadian term for an apple.

By the time the project is done, the number of words and phrases in the dictionary will have grown to 1.3 million, said John Simpson, chief editor of the dictionary.


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