OED Online Re-launched: Distinguishing Old Scholarship from New


In December 2010 Oxford University Press re-launched the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) website and instituted far-reaching changes to the online version of the dictionary, which has been undergoing revision (as opposed to successive supplementation) for the first time in its history. Alphabetically sequential revision was abandoned, lists of revised entries ceased to be updated, and the independent version of OED2 was deleted. These changes, apparently aimed at a general audience, have made it impossible to track the progress of the revision or see the different stages and characteristics of OED’s history. Over half the entries in the website version of OED are still unrevised from the first edition (completed 1928) and are the product of technology, scholarship and cultural assumptions now out of date. To interpret OED’s evidence correctly (particularly when making electronic searches), readers need to be able to distinguish between old scholarship and new, and understand the varying historical provenance of the entries they consult. Little or no guidance on these matters is currently provided by the website. In demonstrating the problems this causes for lexical researchers (including via the links supplied with the Historical Thesaurus of the OED) this article examines terms for homosexuality, showing that partially re-written entries confuse the historical record preserved in successive versions of OED.