Wednesday 19 October 2011

The Quintessential Concise

If you write for a blog, even a scrappy little pretender like Otagosh, you need a decent dictionary.  Spell checkers alone just don't cut it, as many of us have discovered to our cost when typing to instead of too.  Nothing advertises the fact that you're an amateur (Jim West would say dilettante) as much as a glaring typo in the midst of a piece of serious writing.

I mention this because, as well as being the 400th anniversary of ye olde King James Version this year, its also the 100th anniversary of the quintessential decent dictionary, the Concise Oxford.

To mark the occasion, Oxford have released the twelfth edition of the Concise, along with a reprint of the 1911 first edition.  While this may elicit a chorus of yawns from the back pews, I for one am thoroughly intrigued.  Intrigued enough to spend good money acquiring copies of both.  The former tome that sat next to the desk-top computer, the 2000 New Penguin English Dictionary, can now be retired to classroom use, and the battered, coffee-stained copy of the 1980s COD that I've been persevering with there can finally be put out of its misery.

The 1911 Concise is a fascinating study in how words change.  It's not so much in the words that have been added to the language since 1911, but those that have dropped out completely.  No longer may a blobber-lipped Boanerges create bobbery by counseling a beaverteen-coated benedick after services at the Beulah.  The discretely worded definitions of certain less elevated terms, designed to cause minimum offence, are a period-piece in themselves also.

Equally intriguing is the fact that, chucked in free and gratis with a Kindle, is the full Oxford Dictionary of English (along with the New Oxford American Dictionary) from which the twelfth Concise is derived.  Dictionaries are going to be with us forever, but a scant century after the Fowler brothers produced the first Concise, the momentum is gathering to move from dead trees to e-readers.  The days of the door-stop dictionary are seemingly numbered.

Which is kind of sad.

While on the topic, look out for Stephen Fry's brilliant Planet Word, a BBC series telling "the story of language from the earliest grunts to Twitter and beyond."  It'll take a while before it's screened in this part of Her Majesty's Dominions, but the book of the series is already out (in New Zealand, but not apparently in the US where you'll have to settle for the e-book version in the meantime.) 

Link to 1911 Oxford Concise Dictionary on Amazon.
Link to Amazon's Kindle version of Planet Word.

1 comment:

  1. Any living language will undergo dynamic changes with the passage of time. Of course, in the WCG, this was not cause for celebration, that process was considered for the most part to be degeneration.