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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 22 May 2008
If you cannot afford the £750 for the 20 Volume edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, or if you do not have the shelf space to put them upon, then this is the edition to get. The two great volumes contain nearly four thousand pages, more than half a million definitions, and eighty-five thousand quotations illustrating the meanings and context of many words. What more could you ask for?
Whenever I come across a new word or one I am not sure of the definition, I turn to my copy of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary and find a lot more information than I expected. It is the kind of book that you think you only put on a shelf and refer to it "once in a blue moon", but when you discover all sorts of interesting words and etymologies of common words you want to look further. It is my number one reference book.
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on 26 November 2012
This is a wonderful dictionary but it isn't entirely the dictionary the publicity material says it is. The jacket claims, 'this edition combines the world's best dictionary of contemporary English with a comprehensive account of the historical development of the language.' The book description (above) says it is 'the most authoritative reference work available for both modern and historical English.'

When I queried the thinness of some accounts of current usage with the editor, he replied that the Oxford Dictionary of English 'gives a fuller treatment [than the SOED] to everyday words, with more detail, shades of meaning, examples, and grammatical specification.' Yet the SOED's publicity maintains it is the best, most authoritative dictionary of current as well as historical English. OUP publicists aren't as scrupulous as their lexicographers. You really need both the SOED and the ODE - but they are still worth every penny.
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on 4 September 2009
This is without a doubt the most useful dictionary I have ever bought. It's not oversized as it comes in two standard dictionary-sized volumes and fits neatly on the shelf. I am happy that it contains extended definitions plus contextual passages to back the words up. The sheer number of words contained in the dictionary makes it one of the most comprehensive dictionaries available.

I have noticed that many people have given this product negative reviews due to the CD contained, however I find the CD to be an irrelevance to the dictionary as a whole and give it five stars in spite of the discontent expressed by some of the customers. For anyone who is familiar with the dictionary game, this is perfect as it contains a vast plethora of words which I never knew existed!
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on 21 June 2012
The daddy of them all as dictionaries go is the Oxford English dictionary, which runs to 20 volumes. Not many homes will have this ! But if you are serious about the English language, and interested in its origins and develoment then probably the next best dictionary is the shorter Oxford English dictionary (SOED), which is in two volumes, and runs to about 4000 pages in all. It has been around since the 30s, and has been regularly updated every 10-15 years or so. The latest update was in 2007.
I was in East Anglia recently and came across several place names with 'staithe' in their title - this was a new word for me. On returning home I looked the word up in my excellent Chambers - the genesis and decription of the word - a wharf, landing stage for boats - ran to 3 lines. In the Shorter there was more detail and the entry was 12 lines long.
The Shorter is also available on CD, and somewhat cheaper than its paper counterpart. It also has extra features such as search functions, plus a crossword solver.
Despite this I am more than happy with my paper set - for a start the two volumes look rather more impressive than a CD !
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on 23 March 2011
I was an English teacher for over thirty years and had never owned a decent dictionary. I watched Countdown for years and wished I had a decent dictionary - now I have got one, or two depending how you interpret the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Well worth the wait and we intend to leave it to our grand-daughter when we go so she won't have such a wait for a really decent dictionary!
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on 12 November 2010
We are a crosssword loving family and these two volumes have already been well worth the money. Apart from being purely practical they are a never-ending source of interest about words and their origins. The entries are set out in a clear and easy to read fashion and the books themsleves are a delight to read.
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on 28 January 2012
There is now no reason why the full-sized Oxford English Dictionary should ever be printed again, the online version being so much enlarged and offering so many new ways to study the history and use of words. But every decade or two there needs to be put out a snapshot of all this material in a concise working form, and that is exactly and uniquely what the Shorter OED is designed to do. And a printed edition still has a place, for me anyway: I haven't used the CD-Rom Shorter OED, but I find that the full-sized OED Online (from my limited experience, owing to the cost of subscribing) is still best suited to special searches, and not as friendly as print for browsing - at least for the way in reality you can switch imperceptibly from one type of use to the other, from specific query to moving semi-randomly between entries and finding unexpected connections.

The Shorter OED is the fullest printed dictionary available, with a very deep coverage of obsolete and dialect words, and follows the same historical arrangement of senses as in the big version, with a fair sampling of the illustrative quotations. But it has the advantage of being restricted to MODERN English: that means it gives the complete history of every word and sense in use since 1700, and most since the sixteenth century, leaving out the material now better covered by the new specialist dictionaries of Old and Middle English. (It's an awkward historical accident that leaves the full OED lumbered with this material.)

But it seems to me that the current presentation doesn't quite fit this new job as the premier printed dictionary: it now seems just a little too concise. Since the SOED can't possibly compete in practical use with the latest single-volume 'desk' dictionaries (like the Collins English Dictionary or the Oxford Dictionary of English, which include encyclopedic entries), and since it is already split across two hefty volumes, maybe there would be nothing lost in adding a third volume for a 50% expansion - or 25% if a smaller (lighter!) format was adopted. The SOED's only purpose now is the more 'leisurely' or 'impractical' use, and for this the richness of the text needs to be improved, in particular with more illustrative quotations from earlier periods.

Even sticking to the current presentation, though, the ETYMOLOGIES are one thing that I feel SURE needs improvement, and which I find actually (just a little) irritating. They are given (as is traditionally done) inside square brackets, but this edition then adds the word 'ORIGIN' inside the first bracket - a 'belt and suspenders' approach that wastes a lot of space. As does the printing of language names unabbreviated. This perhaps makes the etymologies easier to read, but it's not as if abbreviations don't appear elsewhere in the dictionary entries, and some etymologies are dense with them. For clarity in the etymologies it would be far more useful to open up the style of expression, which tends to be too concise, even cryptic - so that at times it can be difficult to extract information unambiguously (something which the expansive approach to language names just highlights, since the content itself is categorically NOT expansive). The greater use of abbreviations could even allow extra substantial matter to be included without taking up any more space - things like more variant historical spellings, more focus on shifts of meaning in addition to those of form, and willingness to describe the most likely speculations for difficult words (entries too often saying only 'origin unknown'). The SOED's etymologies are sadly uninspiring when compared to the beautifully written etymologies in, for example, the Webster's College Dictionary. A pronunciation guide appears at the bottom of each page - why not print a table of abbreviations and symbols on the endpapers?

P.S. As of 2015 I can strongly recommend the Android mobile app for the dictionary, an amazing product. It offers multicolour print that's bold, clear and large, and you can move about in it freely: just tap on a word that interests you in one entry and you are carried straight to ITS entry, with your history recorded. It makes the print edition very uninviting - two volumes 3KG each with tiny font and large pages.
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on 30 January 2009
It goes without saying that is an authoritative and enjoyable work. Ths CD is very useful. HOWEVER - The CD is spoilt by number points which detract greatly from its brilliance. The pronunciation guide is extremely useful, but not without errors. The phonetic guide appears loosely based on the IPA (intnl phonetic alphabet) though has some eccentric departures which only act to confuse if you are familiar with the system. The audio pronunciation help is generally good, though I have found occasions when the audio contradicts the phonetic spelling given (eg Byzantine - see for yourself).
Also, and this next part is extremely irritating, is that Oxford persists in using circular references. If you are not a lingusit or lexicographer, this basically means using the headword (the word to be defined) in the definition itself. For example the noun 'homage' - in def 3 is described as 'homage'. If you then go to the verb form of the word, the definition is given as 'Pay homage'. This is lazy lexicography and very disappointing.
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on 20 March 2011
(Am I also a mzee? Don't think so.)

When you pick this up to look up a particular word, do not be surprised if you get sucked in and find yourself ages later pondering over some word or concept totally unrelated to your starting point.

I test English dictionaries with the word 'mop.' If a dictionary does not include the meaning of a fair where servants used to go to be hired, I know it is not a dictionary for me.

This was a much-appreciated present, all the more so when I sneaked a look at 'MOP.'
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on 28 September 2011
My copy contained bumps, dents, was warped in places and was not evenly glued. As someone else has suggested, the spine is not sturdy enough and will certainly fail after even moderate, careful handling. A very poorly-produced and manufactured book and a total waste of money in my view. Even the integrated book marks were unwieldy and quite capable of doing real damage to the thin pages of text.

Very important to realize my criticism is levelled Entirely at the construction: scholarship-wise this is a superb book with a high reputation guaranteed through many editions and is virtually unchallengeable. My advice to a would-be purchaser - just opt for the standard hardback edition which is much cheaper and comes with attractive glossy dust jackets.
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