130 pounds! I had to check. Are we talking “pounds” as in gravity, or “pounds” as in British currency? Alas the next version of the Oxford English Dictionary will weigh 130 pounds. Ugh. But at least it ONLY costs 995.00 US Dollars, or 1,539.00 British pounds. It is to the point where the publisher is considering a digital only publication. That’s right – no more print edition of the Oxford English Dictionary! As I write this, there are sighs of relief from the trees in my yard, or was that just an August breeze?
Of course it takes more than one volume in order to get that many words onto paper. According to the Oxford Dictionaries website, the 20 volume set contains definitions and etymologies for approximately 250,000 words. 750,000 words if you include obsolete words, derivatives, technical jargon and distinct senses of words.
For some reason, that doesn’t sound like a lot of words. It’s not even a million. Maybe we are just used to hearing bigger numbers; billions of dollars in debt, trillions of web-pages, googles of grains of sand, mega-googles of stars in the universe. Numbers don’t always impress us like they used to. We’ve got to see a thing to really get your mind around it.
For that reason, I think they should print at least one of these dictionaries. What if they forgot to do a save and they lost their backup? Or the Oxford’s hard drive failed? Somebody would be in big trouble over there! Yes, we need at least one set on display in every library. Maybe even just some fake one’s without the actual words in it. They could sit on the shelves just so we could see how big the set would be if it were actually there. I did some quick math and figured that 750,000 words printed in Times New Roman 12 pt. text would stretch approximately 5.9 miles. That’s enough to go from New York City to Schenectady and back 3 times.
Seriously; it is a great achievement to have created this many words. Like colors, we use them to describe, but also to detail, to explain, to depict, to illustrate, to express, to tell, to delineate…. Words are the colors of the mind I like to say… mind paint, yes that’s it, mind paint.
In the end, it seems people would rather type a word into their computer and call up a definition on their screen, than get out of the chair, walk to the bookshelf and wrestle 8 pounds of volume VI across the room, spilling coffee all over there keyboard from the tremor caused by the great dusty tome dropping on the desk, only to repeat the entire process after you are instructed to “see volume XVIII page 457.” Go figure.
Despite this humor, a word of caution is in order. It is easy these days to look down our noses at the technology of paper books. We do this at our peril as we sit upon the lofty throne of our digital castle. Books have been much more than a crude device for storing words. They have recorded and inspired our collective knowledge, fantasies, hopes fears and dreams for centuries. We will be very glad to have them around when that solar storm hits in 2012 and wipes out all of our electronic data storage!
The Oxford English Dictionary Website