Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

OED online only

Jenny Hendrix, writing on the New Yorker's blog The Book Bench, reacts to the news that the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary will not be printed, but only available online. (Oxford University Press immediately denied that any decision had been made). Hendrix points out the impact of the immense dictionary's material bulk:

The second edition weighs in at a hundred and thirty-five pounds—about as much as the average woman—and fills four feet of shelf space. Weight and size are central to the idea of what the O.E.D. is; authority, in dictionaries, seems to come proportionate to mass, and when it comes to dictionaries, the O.E.D.’s authority is supreme. I have a sense that a weightless O.E.D., instead of being the last word in words, would become just more “information” of the sort that’s found everywhere online.

... I can’t help but feel that if the printed O.E.D. were to disappear, our language would suddenly feel a little less important. We won’t be able to look at its twenty volumes on our shelves and see just how impressive a thing a language is. Random browsing might become less common, and words might fall out of use as a result. Though serendipity remains possible online, it will be a sad day when we no longer have the joy of stumbling by chance on an exotic, beautiful, and exactly perfect word by opening randomly to one of the O.E.D.’s twenty-two thousand pages.

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