The Oxford English Dictionary on Compact Disc (second edition)

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Getting Started
  3. Menus and Windows
  4. Searches
  5. Output of Searches


The Oxford English Dictionary is the only English language dictionary that presents a comprehensive history of the English language and illustrates its development by quotations from both scholarly and popular works. Virtually any source of the printed word is used. The 20-volume second edition of the OED, published in 1989, contains nearly two and a half million quotations in 290,500 entries, which attempt to cover the documented use of words currently employed in the English language, or known to have been in use at any time since the middle of the twelfth century. However, it is recognized that much still remains to be done in adding slang, jargon and dialect words, and also in revising and updating scientific and technical vocabulary.

The second edition of the OED is now made available on compact disc. It enables you to search the complete text of the dictionary electronically. You can look up words just as you would using the printed book, or you can search for words and phrases wherever they occur, even those in Greek script or the pronunciation transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet. You can limit your search to a particular section of the entry, such as the etymology or the quotations, or you can limit it by date or part of speech. More complex searches combining queries by the use of Boolean operators can be constructed using the query language. You can save the results of searches to a file for later study, and queries constructed using the query language can also be saved and recalled. Entries identified by your search are displayed in a choice of fonts and formats, and a structure map of longer entries can be displayed to help you find your way to the section you want. You can follow up cross-references, browse the dictionary text freely, and paste short sections from OED2 entries into your own text files.You can also convert your result files into text files and work with them outside the application.

The OED assumes, to a greater degree than other English languages dictionaries, that its users are familiar with the terminology of grammar and linguistics. Etymologies of words is the most important kind of information it provides - it is especially useful for linguists and for scholars dealing with language in their work, but it can also benefit scholars in any field, and inform and entertain the general reader, especially since the illustrative quotations, which form over half the dictionary's text, are in themselves a rich resource for both literary and social history.

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Getting Started

Select the OED on CD-ROM from any of the NY machines in the LETRS lab. To finish a session of work with the OED, pull down the File menu and select EXIT. You can activate the OED's Help by choosing it in the menu bar; it is context sensitive, i.e. it tries to offer help that talks about what you are currently trying to do. To close the active subordinate window or dialog box etc. within the OED window, press CTRL/F4.

You can use two OED manuals at LETRS. One of them is for the printed version. It explains the structure of the dictionary. The other one is for the OED on CD-ROM. New Windows users should consult the OED on CD-ROM manual or a Windows manual.

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Menus and Windows

To begin using OED2 on CD-ROM, select a menu from the menu bar at the top of the window.

1. The File menu is used for managing query files (see next page) and results files.

2. The Edit menu allows you to move, copy, and delete text within the OED, and to and from other applications.

3. The Search menu helps you to define the section or field you wish to look at within a dictionary entry. Click on Search in the menu bar, then click on the name of the search you want to carry out. Type the string you want to find in the input box and then click on the FIND button or press ENTER. In search windows with more than one input box, you will need to activate the correct one first by clicking in it. The FIND ALL button is used when combining search fields. The LIST button activates the appropriate list window. List windows display alphabetical lists of all items available for searching in the category in which you are working, for example all the language names in etymologies, or all the authors cited in quotations. In all search types except Word Look-up the results of the search are first displayed in a results window. To select an entry from the results window for display, double click on the line you want. Entries located by your search, whatever the search type, are written to screen in a display window. If the entry is too long to be displayed in a single window, the display begins with the section of it containing the search item.

4. The Display menu allows you to select which parts of an entry you wish to display. For example, if you search on etymologies, you may wish to display only the etymologies of the entries found in your search.

5. The Settings menu is used in free text searches (i.e. text, etymology, definition, and quotation searches), to refine the search by allowing for variation in case, hyphenation, and the use of accents and other diacritics and special characters.

6. The Keyboard menu provides a key to the keyboard equivalents of Greek and Phonetic characters and of the special characters described in the Settings menu, enabling the entering of search items in either character set.

7. The Font menu offers a choice of colors, fonts, and sizes for the entry displayed in the Display window.

8. For details use the OED Help menu. Using Help you can click on the green colored words in Search windows to see the desirable topics, print topics (select FILE), copy and annotate them (select EDIT), set bookmarks (select BOOKMARK), keep the Help window on top of all the windows (select HELP), search for the topic you wish (select SEARCH) etc.

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1. Word look-up search. Select WORD from the Search menu. The Word look-up Search window offers a choice of five lists and two filters. Choose the list you want to search by clicking in the appropriate circle.

2. Text search. Select TEXT from the Search menu. This option finds any word or phrase anywhere it occurs in the text of the OED.

3. Etymology search. Select ETYMOLOGY from the Search menu. The Search window has three input boxes, allowing you to search for a specific language name or cited form, or to search the whole of the etymology text.

4. Definition search. Select DEFINITION from the Search menu. It finds any word or phrase wherever it occurs within the definition sections of dictionary entries.

5. Quotation search. Select QUOTATION from the Search menu. It finds the illustrative quotations in an entry. The search window for quotation searches has four input boxes, allowing you to search the quotations by date, author, or work title, or to search the text quoted on a free text basis.

6. Query language searching. This option enables you to combine searches across different sections of the dictionary (for words, parts of speech, variant forms, phrases, pronunciation, Greek words, language names, cited forms, first dates of occurence, authors' names, works' names, dates of quotations, any parts of the text, etymologies) and to save the results of those searches to a text file for sorting and editing. See details in Help.

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Output of Searches

A results file is not a text file and cannot be edited: it is held in a format meaningful only to the software. It can, however, be written to a text file, which must have the filename extension .TXT. You may write an entire entry to this text file, or any of the individual fields in it. To do so, select Output to text from the Query Files option in the File menu. Select the results file you wish to write to text. In the dialog box that is presented, select the text elements to be output by clicking in the option boxes, and then click on OK.

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Last Updated: 30 March 2001
Comments: Library Electronic Texts Resource Service /
Indiana University