The Oxford English Dictionary (20 Volume Set) / Edition 2

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Eighty years ago, the "greatest work in dictionary-making ever undertaken" was completed. And with its enormous range, unparalleled historical depth, detailed etymologies, and inexhaustible supply of illustrative quotations, it has enriched the lives of writers, readers, and word-lovers of all stripes ever since. Begun in 1857, published in ten volumes in 1928, subsequently revised and expanded to 20 volumes in 1989, and now adopted to the electronic age, the OED has become the most venerated and most beloved English-language reference ever compiled.

The key feature of the OED, of course, is its unique historical focus. Accompanying each definition is a chronologically arranged group of quotations that illustrate the evolution of meaning from the word's first recorded usage and show the contexts in which it can be used. The quotations are drawn from a huge variety of sources—literary, scholarly, technical, popular-and represent authors as disparate as Geoffrey Chaucer and Erica Jong, William Shakespeare and Raymond Chandler, Charles Darwin and John Le Carre. In all, nearly 2.5 million quotations—illustrating over a half-million words—can be found in the OED. Other features distinguishing the entries in the dictionary are the most authoritative definitions, detailed information on pronunciation, variant spellings throughout each word's history, extensive treatment of etymology, and details of area of usage and of any regional characteristics (including geographical origins).

A dictionary like no other in the world, the OED has been described as "among the wonders of the world of scholarship." Reflecting upon the Dictionary's 80 years, that statement is today more apt than it ever has been.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Being the most expansive and exhaustive not to mention the most fun of all English dictionaries, its the finest testament I know to everything I love (and, all right, occasionally hate) about words."—Michael Cunningham (celebrated author of The Hours)

"Word lovers, the gods are smiling upon you. It no longer takes a small mortgage, or at least a trip to the library, to plumb the Oxford English Dictionary—the big one, not the abridged training-wheels versions. For its 75th anniversary since the last volume of the First Edition was published, Oxford University Press has knocked down the prices big time."—Chicago Sun-Times

"With its exhaustive definitions and precise etymology, the Oxford English Dictionary is absolutely indispensable to our work here at Jeopardy!"—Gary Johnson, Jeopardy! Supervising Producer/Writer

"The richest people in the world are those who have the OED on their shelves. Here is the greatest treasure of words waiting to be assembled into fiery tracts and rants, literary novels, histories, sagas, comic poems, exposes, polemics, tall tales and learned treatises, kids' books, advert copy, reports on busted dams and declarations, all the expressions of a hundred different cultures. And the sturdy boxes in which the dictionary comes are each the perfect size for a manuscript. So there it is, all the raw material a writer needs for a lifetime of work."—Annie Proulx

"Since my Milton teacher sent me to the OED at the start of my college career, that vast and virtuous monument has been an almost daily companion. It's far the most important of my reference aids; and of all things for a dictionary, it's proved likewise a steady source of surprise and delight."—Reynolds Price

"When I first got the OED I read it through from A to Z. I wondered which word had the greatest coverage, and in Volume VIII (Q-Sh), I found it: 'set.' More than a hundred and twenty meanings were given for the verb 'set' used alone; another thirty or so when used in conjunction with various prepositions and adverbs (set aside, set about, set apart, etc.). I got the feeling that this little three-letter word might be the most useful and versatile in the entire English language."—Oliver Sacks

"The OED has been to me a teacher, a companion, a source of endless discovery. I could not have become a writer without it. "—Anthony Burgess

"No similar work, not even the great Lexicon of the brothers Grimm, is comparable to [the OED] in magnitude, accuracy, or completeness. It is one of the monuments to the patient persistence of scholarship and one of the most sterling illustrations of that strange piety which only scholars can understand."—The Nation

"No one who reads or writes seriously can be without the OED."—The Washington Post

"In all probability, the greatest continuing work of scholarship that this century has produced."—Newsweek

"It is a remarkable work of scholarship, and must rank high among the wonders of the world of learning."—The Times Educational Supplement

Time Magazine
A scholarly Everest.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198611868
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/28/1989
  • Edition description: 20 Volume Set
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 22000
  • Sales rank: 216,591
  • Product dimensions: 30.50 (w) x 21.00 (h) x 13.00 (d)

Meet the Author

J. A. Simpson worked on the Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary and prepared the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, which was published in 1982. E. S. C. Weiner also served on the editorial staff of the Supplement and compiled the Oxford Guide to English Usage, which was published in 1983.

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Customer Reviews

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( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2008

    Good but Huge

    I own the OED but in digital form. It's great for work histories, which most dictionaries don't have. I love words so it's great for exploring. I'd suggest that you look in to the digital version that takes up maybe 6 feet less on you shelf. Letting you load it onto your computer makes it more accessable. If you love words, you might want to subscribe to the fact of the day, which is a dayly email that is sometimes interesting. <BR/>Only negative to the digital edition is the truely obnoxious security system ( you need to put the data disk into the computer every 90 days or so) and the fact that the program might not be compatible with some new OS.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2001


    Trust me--as long as spending the money won't bankrupt you, the $1000 it costs to purchase the OED is easily the greatest investment you'll ever make. This encyclopedic explication of the English language--its vocabulary and the various facets, usages and evolving histories of the words it contains--is a sheer joy. Never has an educational tool been so fun to use. No disrespect to Merriam-Webster: their unabridged dictionary is a first-rate and multi-faceted work of scholarship (and certainly far better than any of the other books that pass themselves off as dictionaries); but the OED is even greater. It deserves recognition as a great, timeless work of literature and scholarship. You must own it!!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 21, 2014

    A Bibliophile's Dream

    I have always dreamed of owning a complete OED. Given the nature of printing these days, it is likely that this edition will be the last ever physically printed. The next edition is at least 10 years away from completion and will likely only be available in digital form. While the set itself is indeed beautiful, I was disappointed at the B&N delivery. This is a set of 20 volumes. I received a box with 4 volumes in it and an email letting me know that my order was complete. Sorry, volume 5-8 does not an OED make. Someone at the warehouse did not do a very good job of checking the completeness of the order, and I had to spend a great deal of time and effort to get the problem resolved.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2014

    By the far the most comprehensive, historically informed and det

    By the far the most comprehensive, historically informed and detailed dictionary ever created, this 20 volume dictionary is a stunning achievement and also a real joy to browse through. It is the bible of dictionaries, absolutely definitive.  

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2014

    "... and now adopted to the electronic age ..." Should

    &quot;... and now adopted to the electronic age ...&quot;
    Shouldn't that be &quot;adapted&quot;?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2000

    The OED is needed now more than ever...

    I find it illuminating that all of the previous reviews had blatantly obvious misspellings or syntactical errors indicating the need for a good dictionary. That aside, the OED sets the standard for other publishers. The major draw back is its size - 20 volumes take up a huge amount of desk space. Furthermore, the cross-references would be easier to navigate on a CD...

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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