Publishers are meant to be unseen and unheard. It isn't often that one makes the news, but today was an important day for wordies. Major news outlets are reporting that Nigel Portwood of Oxford University Press thinks the third edition of the full-length Oxford English Dictionary, only 25 percent complete, may never go to press.
The OED has gone high-tech. The definitive compendium of the language went digital at www.oed.com in 2000. How's that for a millennial event? It is updated quarterly and is about as jazzy as a dictionary can be. Much as I would like to dip into it, it is accessed by subscription only and that costs nearly $300 a year. I suppose I could afford that if I diverted my ice cream budget to the cause, but I buy a half-gallon of Blue Bell at a time, not with one annual bill.
Okay, not many people have the 20-volume second-edition OED on their bookshelves, and the shorter versions that comprise the bulk of the press's dictionary product line will continue to be printed and sold…for now. But I can see the writing on the wall—the moving finger writes and, having written, uploads to the Internet.
Convenience and cost will trump nostalgia, and they should. Good dictionaries now are available to anyone with a computer, and that is a good thing. But there will be no flipping through pages and hitting at random on wonderful new words. Not to mention no cartons of vanilla, peach or pralines and cream in the freezer.