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OED Online and OED3
OED Online and OED3
The most up-to-date version of the OED is the complicatedly composite version of the Dictionary which can be browsed and searched at www.oed.com (a subscription site which is freely available to many UK users via public libraries; see http://www.oed.com/page/howtosub/free-trials-and-how-to-subscribe). 

This version is in effect the THIRD EDITION of the OED (OED3). The new material in OED3 is of utterly outstanding quality; see further EOED pages on OED3 under Initial results, and a review (published in 2004). Readers should be warned, however, that while many entries have been recently revised, the majority have still been little changed since the first edition of 1884-1928. Despite the OED Online front-page statement that it is 'the most authoritative record of the English language', OED3 contains material which has been unrevised for decades and preserves definitions long discarded by other modern dictionaries (for example, OED's definition of slang as 'the special vocabulary used by any set of persons of a low or disreputable character; language of a low and vulgar type', is one that no self-respecting modern dictionary would dream of including).

As of December 2011, just over one third of the Dictionary has been revised and therefore contains the latest in lexical scholarship, while two thirds remains unrevised; these proportions change slightly every quarter as the lexicographers upload a new tranche of revisions to the website. 

As already mentioned, to understand the nature and content of this edition one needs to know something of its history. For information helping one to interpret the results of searches made of this resource, see Re-launched OED Online. For previous versions and editions of OED, go to Which edition contains what?

Work on OED3 began in the 1990s, under the chief editorship of John Simpson (who had previously worked under R. W. Burchfield on the Supplement, completed 1986, and who had subsequently co-compiled the 1989 OED2). The project was a natural development of the plans behind digitalising the OED which had got underway in the 1980s: once the text of the OED was in electronic form, it would be far easier to update it and to prepare the Dictionary for making the most of the developments in information technology which OUP presciently envisaged were on the horizon (for more information, see Brewer 2007b chapter 8).

The website OED Online was launched in 2000, publishing the first series of revisions of OED entries - which in most cases had not been changed since their original publication in OED1, i.e. between 72 and 116 years previously - in a new version of the Dictionary which could be electronically searched. Alongside this version the website also presented an online version of OED2.

These parallel forms of OED could be examined side by side by users wanting to identify and observe the characteristics of the revised entries. Using identical search tools in each case, one could compare the treatment of different authors, sources, periods etc. and come to a better understanding of the ways in which OED had represented the language at various stages in its history.

Such analyses and comparisons, possible up until December 2010, formed the basis of the Examining the OED project, allowing one to detect biases in the original OED, e.g. its under-treatment of the 18th century, its lack of interest in female writers as quotation sources, and so on. They have also enabled commentary on the progress of OED3.

In addition, the original OED Online website carried clear information on which entries were revised when. The revising lexicographers started with the letter and worked their way onwards through the alphabet to R (reached December 2010), releasing new batches of entries every quarter while at the same time publishing entries for completely new words as they became available (i.e., beginning with any letter of the alphabet). Between March 2008 and December 2010, the revisers also worked outside the letter-range M-R, publishing short sequences of revised entries from across the alphabet. All these stages were listed in a separate series of pages on the website.

Re-launched version
In December 2010, alphabetically sequential revision was apparently abandoned, and OED Online was re-launched in an entirely new website which no longer provides a list of which entries have been revised. Furthermore, the re-launched website has removed OED2 from public consultation online. These changes make it virtually impossible for users to track the progress of the revision or analyse the different stages and characteristics of OED's history. 

All the new material produced by the lexicographers, uploaded to the site in successive batches every quarter, is now merged into an altered version of the 1989 OED2 (on how this version has been altered, see our page on Changes to unrevised OED2). The new and revised entries are slotted into alphabetical sequence with the old, unrevised entries. So OED3 is a confusing mixture of revised and unrevised material, with entries of a very different provenance distributed throughout the alphabet. 

The user therefore needs check the date of every entry consulted to ascertain whether it is revised or unrevised (the date of an entry is identified in the central column of the screen, to the right of the text of the dictionary entry itself. Bear in mind that 'Second edition, 1989' could mean the entry has been unrevised since its original publication 1884-1928, or it could mean that the entry was introduced or revised in Burchfield's Supplement 1972-86, and - if revised at that stage - was partially added to or re-written). For more information on the re-launched OED Online, click on the link below to go to the next page.
Last Updated ( Sunday, 12 February 2012 )
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