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Thursday, 31 January 2013
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Other changes
Other changes introduced in OED Online re-launch of December 2010
Note: many of these changes are on-going, with new material being added as the site develops.

New design
The re-launched site has introduced numerous new features to make the text easier to read on the page and its various components easier to understand and follow up. In particular, users' ability to research OED's use of individual quotation sources has been increased beyond recognition.

That is not to say that there are not occasional glitches. But these will doubtless be ironed out as work progresses - and the particular glitches specified below, which EOED is reporting to OED, will probably have disappeared within months.

Each quotation is now set out on an individual line of text, making the whole much more 'eloquent to the eye', as Murray originally put it (Preface to NED, vol 1 (1888), p. vi), and with the title of every quotation source hyperlinked. Clicking on the link conjures up a box with much further information, itself hyperlinked, allowing one to see how this individual text has been quoted elsewhere in the OED, for example, and how other works by the same author (where applicable) have been quoted.

The cumulative effect is to make it absolutely clear to the user that the OED is constructed from its quotations, and that different sources have been quoted by the OED at vastly different rates. These innovative features of the re-launch thus exemplify and demonstrate the claim made years ago by Craigie and Onions (in the Preface to the 1933 re-issue of OED1), that OED's 'basis is a collection of some five million excerpts from English literature of every period...Such a collection of evidence – it is represented by a selection of about 1,800,000 quotations actually printed – could form the only possible foundation for the historical treatment of every word and idiom which is the raison d'etre of the work. It is a fact everywhere recognized that the consistent pursuit of this evidence has worked a revolution in the art of lexicography.'

The new features also highlight the striking unevenness in OED's use of sources. The differences between rates of quotation almost certainly reflect the lexicographers' choices of which sources to consult (whether determined by the editors' cultural predilections or the respective availability of individual texts), rather than their intrinsic lexical value – as much of the research on Examining the OED explores.

An example will illustrate both the strengths and the potential weaknesses of these features, as at present (December 2011). Quotations under sense 4 of the noun motley are as follows:

4. An incongruous, multifarious, or confused mixture or assembly. Freq. with of.

  • 1609    Shakespeare Sonnets cx. sig. G3v,   I haue gone here and there, And made my selfe a motley to the view.
  • 1698    J. Fryer New Acct. E.-India & Persia 366   By their joint perverting the Holy Bible sprang up this motly of Blasphemous Dotages.
  • 1840    F. Marryat Poor Jack xxvi. 181   What with troops‥Lascars‥yellow men, sickly women, and half-caste children‥tigers‥turtles‥goats, and pigs, on the booms and main-deck, the vessel was in a strange motley of confusion.
  • 1864    D. G. Mitchell Wet Days at Edgewood (1884) 72   Interlacing the pages into a motley of patchwork.
  • 1889    Amer. Naturalist 23 494   A motley of white and gray on the head, neck, shoulders, and back.
  • 1920    D. H. Lawrence Women in Love xiv. 172   'My eye!' said Gudrun, sotto voce, looking at the motley of guests, 'there's a pretty crowd if you like!'
  • 1980    'J. le Carré' Smiley's People ix. 91   A sixty-foot giant trailer‥a motley of foreign registration stickers covering one door.
  • 1988    W. Kennedy Quinn's Bk. 256   The carriages‥are the American motley and they carry the motley-minded denizens of a nation at war and at play.

As described, the title of the text quoted is in each case hyperlinked. One can thus click through to screens detailing Shakespeare's prime position in the OED as one of the most heavily used sources of all, furnishing (currently) 33,150 quotations, of which 1,607 provide first evidence for a word and 8,112 first evidence for a particular meaning. Hamlet is the most quoted of his works, with 1,605 quotations, while the Sonnets provide 719 quotations. (These figures will change every quarter, as revised entries replace unrevised, and they represent a mixture of data derived from OED1's editorial treatment of Shakespeare and from that of OED3 – see discussion of OED3's treatment of Shakespeare on our page on the new search tools here. It would be helpful if the user were warned of this).

One can also see Shakespeare's entry in the ODNB – as one can John Fryer's, Frederick Marryat's, and D. H. Lawrence's. And one can see that Fryer's New Account of East India and Persia supplies the OED with 979 quotations in all, about 0.03% of its total quotations, making it the 459th most frequently quoted source in the OED, while the American Naturalist, quoted from 1867 onwards, supplies OED with a total of 2,727 quotations (about 0.08%), making it the 125th most quoted source.
The hyperlinks for the other quoted sources are more troublesome. The OED's analyses do not consistently distinguish between Frederick Marryat (1792–1848) and his daughter, Florence (1833–1899), author of over 75 novels; following the links for Marryat re's Poor Jack takes one to statistics which roll her quotations into his. John Le Carré's real name is wrongly given as David Moore (it is David Cornwell), while clicking on the invitation to see more quotations from W. Kennedy, source of the 1988 quotation, takes one to a result screen with 357 items from a number of other Kennedys too -  one 16c one (cited from an edition of Dunbar), at least two 19c ones (A. B. W. Kennedy, who wrote on machinery, and W. Kennedy, a poet), and one other 20c one (author of a 1951 training manual called Inspection and Gaging). The only way to filter out the wrong Kennedys is to sort the result pages by date, a hyperlinked option offered to the user which is not currently working.

The same problem afflicts hyperlinks to authors with more than one initial, or authors who share their initials as well as their last names, as any Dictionary user will discover (for example, clicking on links to J. Barker's quotations, viz., Jane Barker bap. 1652, d. 1732, takes one to quotations from other J. Barkers of a later date as well as from A. E. J. Barker and H. J. Barker).

The new linking capacity to other works of reference is another terrific innovation. ODNB entries often provide helpful contextual information on the works cited, though as yet links are not consistently provided. Florence Marryat's quotations, for example, are not currently linked to her entry in the ODNB.  Elsewhere on the screen – the central vertical panel – links to the Middle English and Old English Dictionaries, where relevant, are also provided. Thus the entry for motley links to MED motle, 'fabric woven in several colors, parti-colored or variegated cloth, motley... a particolored or variegated garment or cover', etc.

On occasion, these links also (as of December 2011) need refining and adjustment. So s.v. batten, v.1, we are cross-referenced to an DOE entry which is relevant, batian (which can mean 'to thrive'), and an MED entry which is irrelevant, batten 'to beat, stamp, pound, knock'.

Loss of explanatory information on history of OED and on Third Edition's programme of revision
The re-launched site has removed a number of pages from OED Online. These include facsimiles of archival documents and PDFs of important material published in previous editions of the Dictionary, e.g.

  • OED1's General Explanations, first published 1884
  • Historical Introduction, first published 1933
  • Preface to Second Edition of OED (1989)
  • Preface to Third Edition (only published online, and original version now removed, though with some pages redistributed to a reduced and simplified account of OED history)
  • Pages recording which OED2 entries have been revised by OED3 at what date

This information helped users understand the salient characteristics of the successive versions of OED - not least OED3 itself. The replacement of some facsimile documents (e.g. Trench's seminal lectures to the Philological Society of 1857, 'On some deficiencies in our English Dictionaries') with links to google books is not satisfactory.

New material on 'Aspects of English'
This new section on OED Online, http://www.oed.com/public/aspects/aspects-of-english, contains a series of short descriptive articles on language, past and present, written for a non-academic audience by experts in the field (e.g. a brief overview of the English of the Anglo-Saxons by the OED's Chief Etymologist, Philip Durkin, or of South African English by Penny Silva, Associate Editor of OED and formerly editor of the Oxford Dictionary of South African English). It is divided into four sections:

  • English in Use
  • English in Time
  • Shapers of English
  • Word Stories

each of which is being gradually added to as the website undergoes its continual process of update, revision and expansion. We can hope that OED Online will soon add respective publication dates for the essays, so that  - given the constantly changing nature both of OED3 and of language itself - we can understand each in relation to the state of OED3 at the time of composition.
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 03 January 2012 )
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