Bragging Rights

Today is the official release day of the New Oxford American Dictionary 3rd edition.  I can’t describe it better than OUP’s website:

As Oxford’s flagship American dictionary, the New Oxford American Dictionary sets the standard of excellence for lexicography in this country. With more than 350,000 words, phrases, and senses, hundreds of explanatory notes, and more than a thousand illustrations, this dictionary provides the most comprehensive and accurate coverage of American English available.

I am proud to have worked on the first edition, and this one, the third. I was art editor and editorial assistant for the first edition and contracted out 1200 illustrations by several amazing artists back in Connecticut—and many of the illustrations, including some new ones,  are mine. There’s no room in dictionary illustration for cheating or sentiment. They must be absolutely accurate. To draw dictionary illustrations an artist must seek out excellent references on the subject, and that’s often not easy. The pictures don’t fall out of our heads.

No one who loves and uses dictionaries would believe how much work goes into creating one—every tiny revision has consequences. Thousands of new words are assessed, others deleted. There are hundreds of editorial tasks to be done including a huge proofreading effort by a stable of some of the most experienced dictionary proofreaders in the US, including yours truly! I have never written about working on dictionaries before so it’s tumbling out! I think the main point about dictionary work is this: anything included must be true. Think of the thousands of subjects a dictionary covers—making sure every definition is the truth requires an enormous amount of research but it’s an obligation taken very seriously. And deadline time is as crazy as in any job with late nights, too much coffee, and blurry eyes for all involved.

This dictionary is also available as an online subscription.

8 responses to “Bragging Rights

  1. My favorite dictionary to use has always been Oxford. When we had to work on a semester long project for my linguistics class the Oxford was the most sought after and I must confess, I horded it for myself! Since I worked in the library I would “misplace” it in the biology or art sections so no one else would find it when I needed it… evil I suppose but I got an A for the class! You do whatever you can for that extra edge 😉

  2. Haha that is naughty! Did you use the OED? We only started Americanizing Oxford dictionaries and thesauruses in the ’90s, before that they were strictly Brit. But probably best bet for a linguistics class for sure.

  3. During your work on the new OAD did you discover that one of the most frequently cited sources of first ever usages of words was from the writings of Sir Thomas Browne? i.e. ‘electricity” hallucination’ ‘medical’ ‘antediluvian’ ‘ambidextrous”pathology’ etc. etc. etc.

  4. I wasn’t aware of that…but I don’t work much with the citations. I’m sure his citations get picked up because he was a prolific writer. 12 children and the witchcraft thing…now that got him some press.

  5. Deb I have to say this is sincerely very impressive & I’m looking forward to checking out a copy to see your contributions. Either I’m getting old or I’m just old skool but even with all the online references out there & the dictionary that’s on my iphone, I still love carrying around & referring to the hard copy real deal. I used to read the dictionary from cover to cover when I was in grade school as it was a way to learn English seeing I wasn’t speaking it at home.

  6. Well it worked because your vocabulary is better than that of many Americans I know. I hear that eventually print dictionaries will be phased out, which is so sad—I can’t imagine life without the big lugs.

  7. Finally, my IP is up after four days of outage. Congrats on the new dictionary and the contributions you have made to it in the past. I hope your latest contract is working out. I’m glad to be back reading your work. Warmest regards — Jack.

  8. Hi Jack, Welcome back! I’m going through a busy period with both of my jobs right now and enjoying the luxury of having enough work. And I see you’re up to your ears in work now too…nothing makes me feel more alive…but in my life, it’s either sheer boredom or sheer terror!

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