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Oxford English Dictionary - worth buying?
Thread poster: Christian

Local time: 15:30
English to German
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Apr 6, 2005

I am toying with the idea of buying the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) on CD-ROM (GBP250 + VAT). As this dictionary is pretty expensive, I just cannot make up my mind.

What do you think? Is it worth buying? If so, how much do you have to pay for upgrades? I do know there are also smaller editions of this dictionary, but I would like to find out more about the 20-volume OED.

Any comments / opionions about this dictionary are welcome. Thank you very much in advance.

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Textklick  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:30
German to English
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Shorter or Concise Apr 6, 2005

Working from German, I naturally find the full Duden invaluable.

The full OED is fun to have, but as I am sure you know, it goes into much more detail than Duden.



[ad. med.L. dictionarium or dictionarius (sc. liber) lit. a repertory of dictiones, phrases or words (see DICTION) in F. dictionnaire (R. Estienne 1539), It. dizionario, Sp. diccionario.]
1. a. A book dealing with the individual words of a language (or certain specified classes of them), so as to set forth their orthography, pronunciation, signification, and use, their synonyms, derivation, and history, or at least some of these facts: for convenience of reference, the words are arranged in some stated order, now, in most languages, alphabetical; and in larger dictionaries the information given is illustrated by quotations from literature; a word-book, vocabulary, or lexicon.
Dictionaries proper are of two kinds: those in which the meanings of the words of one language or dialect are given in another (or, in a polyglot dictionary, in two or more languages), and those in which the words of a language are treated and illustrated in this language itself. The former were the earlier. Dictionarius was used c 1225 by Joannes de Garlandia, a native of England, as the title of a collection of Latin vocables, arranged according to their subjects, in sentences, for the use of learners; e.g.In horto magistri Johannis sunt herbe scilicet iste: salvia, petroselinum, dictamnus, ysopus, celidonia, feniculus, piret[r]um, columbina, rosa, lilium, et viola; et a latere crescit urtica, carduus, et saliunca.In the following century Peter Berchorius (died Paris, 1362) wrote a Dictionarium morale utriusque Testamenti, consisting of moralizations on the chief words of the Vulgate for the use of students in theology. In 1538 Sir Thomas Elyot published his Latin-English Dictionary; and in 1556 J. Withals published A shorte dictionarie for yonge beginners in English and Latin, in which the words were arranged not alphabetically, but under subject-headings, e.g. the names of Byrdes, Byrdes of the Water, Byrdes about the house, as cockes, hennes, etc., of Bees, Flies, and others, etc. In 1539 R. Estienne published his Dictionaire Francois-latin. Dictionaries (so entitled) of English and various modern languages appeared in England from 1547 onward; in the 17th c. the name was gradually extended to works explaining English words, only hard words being admitted into the earliest English Dictionaries.Vocabulary is now generally limited to a smaller and less comprehensive collection of words, or to a word-book of technical, or specific terms. Lexicon is the name usually given to dictionaries of Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Ethiopic, and some other literary languages.
1526 Pilgr. Perf. (W. de W. 1531) 233 And so Peter Bercharius in his dictionary describeth it.
1538 (title), The Dictionary of syr Thomas Eliot knyght.
Preface A ij bk., About a yere passed I beganne a Dictionarie, declaryng latine by englishe.
1547 Salesbury (title), A Dictionarie in Englyshe and Welshe, moche necessary to all such Welshemen as will spedly lerne the Englyshe tongue.
1556 Withals Shorte Dictionarie (1568) Colophon: ¶Thus endeth this Dictionarie, very necessary for children: compiled by J. Withals.
a1568 R. Ascham Scholem. (Arb.) 27 As the Grammer booke be euer in the Scholers hand, and also vsed of him, as a Dictionarie, for euerie present vse.
1580 J. Baret (title), An Alvearie or Quadruple Dictionarie, containing foure sundrie tongues: namelie English, Latine, Greeke, and French.
1588 Marprel. Epist. (Arb.) 42 His Lordship of Winchester is a great Clarke, for he hath translated his Dictionarie, called Co[o]pers Dictionarie verbatim out of Robert Stephanus his Thesaurus, and ilfauored to, they say.
1598 Florio (title), A Worlde of Wordes, or most copious, and exact Dictionarie in Italian and English, collected by Iohn Florio.
c1616 Webster Duchess of Malfi v. ii, A..disease..they call lycanthropia. Pes. Whats that? I need a dictionary tot.
1623 H. Cockeram (title), The English Dictionarie: or an Interpreter of hard English Words.
1656 T. Blount (title), Glossographia or a Dictionary Interpreting all such Hard are now used in our refined English Tongue.
1665 Boyle Occas. Refl. v. vii. (1845) 322 A man must have..learnd an Hebrew Grammar, and turnd over Buxtorfs, Schindlers, and other Dictionaries.
1721 N. Bailey (title), An Universal Etymological English Dictionary.
1752 Fielding Amelia Wks. 1775 X. 129 All the majors words are not to be found in a dictionary.
1755 Johnson Dictionary Preface ¶3, I have, notwithstanding this discouragement, attempted a dictionary of the English language, which, while it was employed in the cultivation of every species of literature, has itself been hitherto neglected.
1849 Lond. Jrnl. 12 May 149 Morrison mentions a dictionary in the Chinese language of 40,000 hieroglyphical characters, as having been compiled 1100 years before Christ.
1857 Trench On some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries 4 A Dictionary, according to that idea of it which seems to be alone capable of being logically maintained, is an inventory of the language.
1870 Emerson Soc. & Solit., Books Wks. (Bohn) III. 87 Neither is a dictionary a bad book to is full of suggestion,the raw material of possible poems and histories.
1878 R. W. Dale Lect. Preach. vi. 181 A dictionary is not merely a home for living words; it is a hospital for the sick; it is a cemetery for the dead.
b. fig. The vocabulary or whole list of words used or admitted by any one. Obs.
1579 Fulke Heskins Parl. 58 If I may vse that tearme vnder correction of M. Heskins dictionarie.
1646 Sir T. Browne Pseud. Ep. i. x. 41 Not only in the dictionary of man, but the subtiler vocabulary of Satan.
1727 Swift Gulliver iii. ii. Wks. 1883 XI. 197, I much enlarged my dictionary; and when I went next to court, was able to understand many things the king spoke.
c. Colloq. phr. to have swallowed the (or a) dictionary: to use long or recondite words.
1934 G. Orwell Burmese Days ii. 29 Have you swallowed a dictionary?.. We shall have to sack this fellow if he gets to talk English too well.
1966 M. Torrie Heavy as Lead x. 124 The whole point is that my Society deprecates, as much as you do... The voices began again, Aw, cut it out! Put a sock in it! Evve swallered the dictionary!
d. An ordered list stored in and used by a computer; spec.
(a) a list of contents, e.g. of a database;
(b) a list of words acceptable to a word-processing program, against which each word of text is checked.
1957 IBM Jrnl. Res. & Devel. I. 150/1 The dictionary for language translation by a computer..and many other problems which are essentially table look-up require a system like those described.
1964 AFIPS Conf. Proc. XXVI. 353/1 A separate dictionary is maintained for each disk area. Each dictionary entry contains the following information for each subroutine within that area: 1. subroutine name. 2. disk address of the subroutine. 3. length of the subroutine. 4. date the subroutine was filed.
1969 P. B. Jordain Condensed Computer Encycl. 286 A load module usually contains three principal subdivisions: an external symbol dictionary (ESD), a text section (TXT), and a relocation dictionary (RLD)... The ESD contains the names and locations within the module of all entry points.
1975 J. Martin Computer Data-Base Organiz. xxxiii. 481 Each entry in the dictionary points to an occurrence list giving every occurrence in the document file of the word in question.
1975 Nature 16 Oct. 556/2 The present practice is for computers to store an exception dictionary, the routine being to search the dictionary for the word and use the recorded hyphenation break if it is there, or otherwise to hyphenate by logic.
1980 New Scientist 3 July 31/3 The Displaywriter has a dictionary of 50 000 common words and space for another 500 which can be added by the typist.
1984 J. Hilton Choosing & using your Home Computer 115/2 Some sophisticated word processing programs can perform useful extra functions. The automatic dictionary, or spelling checker, is among the most popular inclusions.
2. a. By extension: A book of information or reference on any subject or branch of knowledge, the items of which are arranged in alphabetical order; an alphabetical encyclopædia: as a Dictionary of Architecture, Biography, Geography, of the Bible, of Christian Antiquities, of Dates, etc.
(Here the essential sense word-book is supplanted by the accidental one of reference book in alphabetical order arising out of the alphabetical arrangement used in modern word-books.)
1631 Massinger Emp. East i. ii, I have composed a dictionary, in which He is instructed how, when, and to whom, To be proud or humble.
1712 Addison Spect. No. 499 ¶2 The story..which I have since found related in my historical dictionary.
1871 Morley Voltaire (1886) 299 Minutiæ ought to be collected by annalists, or in some kind of dictionaries where one might find them at need.
b. fig. A person or thing regarded as a repository of knowledge, convenient for consultation.
1774 Goldsm. Nat. Hist. (1776) I. Pref. 7 A system may be considered as a dictionary in the study of nature.
1837 Emerson Addr., Amer. Schol. Wks. (Bohn) II. 181 Life is our dictionary.
1849 Macaulay Hist. Eng. II. 180 Burnet was eminently qualified to be of use as a living dictionary of British affairs.
1893 F. C. Selous Trav. S.E. Africa 359 Mr. Edwards is a perfect walking dictionary concerning all matters connected with sport and travel in the interior of South Africa.
3. attrib. and Comb., as dictionary English, meaning, order, phraseology, word, work; dictionary-maker, -making, -writer, -writing; dictionary-tutored adj.;
dictionary-monger, one who deals much with dictionaries;
dictionary-proof a., proof against the informing influence of a dictionary.
1632 J. Hayward tr. Biondis Eromena A iv, I would taken (or rather mistaken) for a Dictionary-tutred Linguist.
1668 Wilkins Real Char. Ded. A iij, This Work of Dictionary-making, for the polishing of their Language.
1727 Swift Gulliver iv. xii. Wks. 1883 XI. 355 Writers of travels, like dictionary-makers, are sunk into oblivion by the weight and bulk of those who come last, and therefore lie uppermost.
1742 Arbuthnot & Pope, etc., Note on Dunciad iv. 231 The first [Suidas] a dictionary-writer, a collector of impertinent facts and barbarous words.
1759 Goldsm. Polite Learn. ii, Dictionary writing was at that time much in fashion.
1794 W. B. Stevens Jrnl. 19 Nov. (1965) 206 He seems to be quandaryed (thats not a dictionary word I believe).
1806 Oracle in Spirit Pub. Jrnls. (1807) X. 43 The dictionary-monger in the Blind Bargain.
1818 Miss Mitford in LEstrange Life (1870) II. 27 After the fashion of certain dictionary-mongers who ring the changes upon two words.
1819 Sporting Mag. V. 122 Grose..was even dictionary-proof.
1830 Galt Lawrie T. vii. iii. (1849) 318 Miss Beeny was an endless woman with her dictionary phraseology.
1831 Carlyle Sart. Res. i. iv, He..calls many things by their mere dictionary names.
1837 Mill in Westm. Rev. XXVII. 19 A few phrases, adding up the dictionary meanings of which, we may hunt out a few qualities.
1854 W. C. Roscoe in Prospective Rev. X. 398 [Shakespeare] leaves his meaning to rest in great measure on the atmosphere that hangs about his language, rather than on its dictionary meaning and grammatical construction.
1858 R. S. Surtees Ask Mamma i. 1 His fine dictionary words and laboured expletives.
1880 Grant White Every-Day Eng. 100 Trying to speak dictionary English.
1882 Freeman in Longm. Mag. I. 97 Did anybody, even a dictionary-maker, really fancy that the last three letters of neighbour had anything in common with the last three letters of honour?
1887 Trans. Philol. Soc. 18856 p. ix. The main difficulty in the Dictionary work is to trace the history of the development of the meanings of a word.
1929 C. I. Dodd Apples & Quinces ii. iv. 146 It was over the Dictionary work that Amanda made the acquaintance of Mr. Jasper Stafford.
Ibid v. 156 Amanda went back to Oxford and Dictionary-making.
'dictionaryless a., without a dictionary.
1854 Frasers Mag. L. 317 Battling, grammarless and dictionaryless, with a work in a strange idiom.

Enough said?

I think you'll find one of the above alternatives to be adequate.



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German to English
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Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary Apr 6, 2005


Even as an English native speaker, I find the OALD a very handy dictionary. If you're interested in etymology or the historical usage of words, it might be worth investing in the OED or even the Shorter OED (which is not that expensive). If, however, you need a dictionary for everyday use for translating work, e.g. to check or look up idioms, phrasal verbs, usage (AmEng or BritEng) and lots more, the OALD is probably your best bet.

You can get the full OALD on CD from Cornelsen in Germany:

There is also a trimmed-down version that is accessible online:
(search function is much better on CD)

If you’re looking for an everyday tool to use for translation work, you might also want to consider the Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners. I think the paperback version actually comes with a free (full) CD version!


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Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:30
German to English
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I'd suggest the Oxford Dictionary of English instead Apr 6, 2005

The OED is a reference dictionary that documents the historical usage of the language. If you're only interested in contemporary English and not a linguist, IMO you'd be better off with something like the Oxford Dictionary of English (ISBN 0-19-861347-4), which is also available on CD-ROM. The paper version was GBP 35 when I bought it last year, and the CD-ROM version is about the same price.

[Edited at 2005-04-06 19:50]

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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:30
Dutch to English
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Agree with Textclick Apr 6, 2005

I have the Concise dictionary on CD-ROM (£ 10.00?) and it is great. I have the paper version of the big one and to be perfectly honest I have not looked in it for ages (it is fun though).

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Parrot  Identity Verified
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Member (2002)
Spanish to English
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I can see myself coming to a stage Apr 6, 2005

in which I'd pay 250 GBP to save the space the paper version occupies

No joke, it's almost right next door -- I live beside a library, so I'm familiar with it's dimensions.

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Local time: 15:30
English to German
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OALD - definitely a good choice Apr 7, 2005

Thomas, I've been working with the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (OALD) for many years. I really don't want to miss it. What I need most is an up-to-date dictionary, so in this particular case I don't think the OED would be a good choice, wouldn't it?

Kenneth, I will also have a closer look at the Oxford Dictionary of English. Sounds very promising.

The OED is a superb dictionary, there is no doubt about it, but I'm pretty sure there are other monolingual dictionaries which are more useful to me. The OALD and the Oxford Dictionary of English may be better choices.

If the OED were less expensive, I'm sure I would buy it, but I don't think I'm willing to spend GBP 250 on a dictionary - no matter how good and comprehensive it may be.

Thank you very much for all your helpful answers to my questions.


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Laurens Landkroon  Identity Verified
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Member (2007)
English to Dutch
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Collins/Longman?? Apr 13, 2005

Dear Cristian,

I always use the Collins Cobuild and the Longman Contemporary.
(as an English-English dictionary).
The Longman has an excellent search feature, where you can type wordphrases and gives is multiple, "thesaurus-like" results.

kind regards,


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Local time: 15:30
English to German
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Longman DCE and OALD Apr 13, 2005

Hi Somerset,

I have been using the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English and the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary for years. IMHO, these reference books are a must for those people whose mother tongue is not English.

Nevertheless, I would have liked to know whether there are any Prozians who use the OED (preferably the CD-ROM edition). I do use the 2-volume "The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary", which I like very much, so maybe the "big brother" of this 2-volume edition is worth buying, too.

Best wishes,

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New version of OALD out -- OALD 7 Aug 4, 2005

Christian wrote:

Thomas, I've been working with the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (OALD) for many years. I really don't want to miss it. What I need most is an up-to-date dictionary, so in this particular case I don't think the OED would be a good choice, wouldn't it?


Hi Christian,

Don't know if this is still relevant, but I thought you might like to know that OUP has released a new edition of the OALD!

The CD-ROM version of this completely revised edition has also been enhanced with several new features and includes 2,000 new words and meanings from British and American English.

OALD home page

New words in the OALD


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Local time: 15:30
English to German
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Thanks for the info, Thomas. Aug 4, 2005

Hi Thomas,

I bought the new edition of the OALD a couple of days ago. It's definitely one of the best monolingual dictionaries money can buy.

Best wishes,

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