$200, but it is still not an impulse purchase. Fortunately, there is a modest compromise for those who swear by Oxford University Press when it comes to dictionaries.
The CD-ROM version of the Concise Oxford Dictionary 10th edition was published by Oxford University Press for about $30 suggested retail. At many Web stores you can find it for around $15, but shipping and handling charges may literally double your expenses. It could even be worth the full retail price if you go for quality content and name recognition, but a baffling software glitch renders many of the entries almost useless. I am surprised that none of the reviews mention this lethal problem. Then again, these are not really reviews, but rather rehashed versions of the publisher's press releases. I installed the dictionary on three computers and had the same experience; and I am still waiting for a reply to my inquiry to Oxford University Press.
There are nearly 65,000 head words (main entries) in this dictionary, which had been substantially revised and restructured. According to the publisher, 300 new entries were added, but the PR page of Oxford University Press lists less than 140 new words or new definitions/meanings for old words.
Many of the new words are information-technology related, such as vortal and e-book. Most are acronyms, like ASP, DdoS and ADSL. The new ones include words that are not so new, such as infomediary, which was used 15 years ago for the title of a journal and was meant to apply to information professionals who acted as intermediaries between end-users and information systems rather than to companies, as the definition implies. Interestingly, this term does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Another "new" term -- conjoined twins -- was already widely in use in the 1960s by well-known journals, as a quick search in Medline proves. Then again, it is new for COD and to the Oxford English Dictionary, though it lists its first example quote of the term from 1916. The term was also used by mainstream journals, even though OED cites only a 2000 issue of Times as an example quote from a general interest periodical. The ABI/INFORM database found an article in Scientific American with the title "Conjoined Twins" from 1892 (this is not a typo).
Some of the new words in reality represent new meanings for traditional words, such as the new definition of "rip" for the process of copying a track from an audio CD or "burn" in reference to creating a CD. Although the blurb on the packaging of the CD-ROM claims that "a revolutionary new defining style places the most modern and frequently used meanings first" it is not so -- luckily.
The previous two examples show that this is not the case, as the definitions for information technology's use of "rip" and "burn" appear last. I think it is correct as is -- after all, the traditional meanings occur much more often in normal speech and in literature. Putting the most common meanings first is not revolutionary, most dictionaries adapted this style and it makes sense.
There are some genuinely new terms included, such as adultescent and the unmistakably British ladette or mobey (for mobile phone if you were wondering). I can almost hear lovely elderly British ladies uttering this word when asked by their grandchildren what they would like to have for Christmas. I would like to hear it pronounced, but in this edition I could not find audio samples as there were in the 9th edition, and in practically all CD-ROM-based dictionaries published in the past few years. This is not mentioned by the PR materials and it is definitely a minus.
I would not have elaborated on the new terms in this edition had it not been so essential for dictionary publishers and fans. Such lists also provide a cross-section or snapshot of the scope of the dictionary, as well as the structuring of the entries.
It is no accident that most of the "reviews" and press releases center around these terms. For publishers, it is always a vanity list and they as eagerly check out the competitors' "new words" as adolescents (and adultescents) compare who can spit farther.
All in all, there are almost 65,000 words and terms defined in the 10th edition, totaling almost a quarter million words in the entries and definitions. The etymological notes and the derivatives are also handy. Sample quotes that show literary warrant would be great, but can't be expected from a concise dictionary. The big problem is the thousands of definitions that you cannot see -- which I will discuss next in the software section.
At first sight the software is smart, swift and intuitive. You don't really need the detailed help file, as navigation is self-explanatory, although the resizing of the head words pane and the definition pane is somewhat unusual, albeit practical. The layout is good, smartly not following the layout of the print version, and dynamically adapting to the size of the window that the user can change easily.
It is a useful feature that the entire dictionary can be installed on your hard drive, and it takes only 7 MB of space. It is less laudable that it is not an option, but a requirement. Those who have an older laptop may not have the luxury of a spare 7 MB for just a dictionary.
When using the dictionary, there are two modes: Quick Mode and Full Mode. In the former, as you type in your word, the software positions itself to the closest matching term. For example, when you type in "thanksgiving" and get to the first 'g' (i.e. thanksg), the term "thanksgiving" is automatically highlighted and its definition appears in the definition pane.
The most impressive feature of the software is that as you scroll down the list of header words you don't need to highlight and press enter or click on the term -- the definitions appear as your mouse passes over the header words. A feature that may be disabled by the user. This is quite useful, although not revolutionary -- the best French art CDs had this feature 6-7 years ago, letting you scroll down the titles of the paintings and flick the thumbnail of the paintings as you progressed by them in the list.
Matching terms are highlighted in the entries in the right-hand pane. You can use limited and unlimited truncation, including left-side truncation which allows you to find all the words that end in, say, "thrope." You may combine various truncations such as "*throp*" to retrieve every word that includes this character string. The results show such a list of header words. The same can be applied to the full body of the dictionary.
In Full Mode, you can also use Boolean operators and search the whole text of the dictionary to find, for example, every entry that includes the word "thanksgiving," or a combination of words, such as "Greek" and "mythology."
Since the dictionary must be installed on the hard drive, it may also be activated to lurk behind the scenes (you can disable this feature) as a memory-resident program. With this feature turned on, you can look up the definition of any word simply by double clicking on it when using any Windows application or Web page. There is, however, the question of whether or not the definition will be displayed because of a stunning glitch in the software.
This is the only software problem, but it is a whopping one. You may have noticed that the definitions for some of the new words I have used have been provided by the PR file instead of being captured from the dictionary as they appear on screen. There is a simple reason for this: The definition for those words, and some ten thousand others, don't appear on screen. Remember ladette? Here is what you would see. Would you like to know what the meaning of stooshie is? It is fracas in Scottish -- what some soccer fans like to engage in before, during, after and even instead of watching the match. Unfortunately, you get a confusing screen from COD, providing no definition or origin.
The number of completely empty entries is staggering. On the list of words with the adjective "hot" in front of them, the majority of them, such as hot air, hot button, hot flash and hot flush, showed an empty definition pane. The same is true for many other hot things, like hot metal, hot money, hot pants, hot shoe, hotpot and hot potato.
Why are there missing definitions? It took me some time, but I figured it out and then verified it. Here is the explanation:
If a header word has only a single definition, it does not appear in the right-hand pane. If it has additional information, such as etymological note or derivative words, these do appear. This can be a stumper and very irritating as in the latter case you may believe that you are supposed to know the meaning of the word and you are just shown the finer things like pronunciation, derivatives and origin of, say, hubris.
I don't know how many of the header words have only a single meaning, but I estimate that it is at least one-third of the nearly 65,000 words. That is an awfully large number of words to be lacking definitions.I hope that Oxford University Press will not wait for the 11th edition, expected for 2011, to correct this lethal mistake, but will post a patch that users can download, or if all else fails, offer a replacement CD for all those who go to their Web site. Too bad that such a valuable dictionary did not go through some elementary quality control.