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Oxford's latest adds new meaning to the phrase 'look it up'.

Byline: BOB KEEFER The Register-Guard

THE NEW SHORTER Oxford English Dictionary, all two volumes and 3,984 pages of it, has been around the house for some time now since its publication late last year. Need any up-to-date definitions?

The dictionary has plenty - about 98,000 words defined in all - and endeavors to document the entire English language since the beginning of the 18th century. Among the 3,500 new terms you'll find discussed in the fifth edition - the fourth came out in 1993 - are Prozac, road rage, parallel universe, Taliban, line dancing, Naderism, DVD and chick lit. Very up to date, if not quite trendy.

The two-book set is beautiful (at $150, it ought to be) and offers an unusually clean page design that makes it much easier to read than many other reference works.

But what makes this dictionary even more fun than the average Webster's is that - much like its 13-volume granddaddy, the Oxford English Dictionary, whose incredible bulk gives this dictionary its "shorter" quality - the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary adds examples of real-life usage.

Definitions are extracted from actual historical quotations; to be included each word must have appeared in print at least five times, in five different sources, over at least a five-year period.

Thus, when you look up the word "save," you find not only that it means, among other things, to "deliver, rescue or protect," but that it dates from Middle English and by the mid-18th century might also mean "be in time for."

And you get examples of its usage by such authors as Evelyn Waugh, who once wrote, as the dictionary notes: "I'd been worrying about my soul and whether I was saved."

Among the nearly 7,000 writers whose works were used as source material for the new dictionary are Lane County's own Barry Lopez and the late Ken Kesey.

Look up "gawk," for example, and you'll find its definition, as a verb, is to "stare stupidly (or) gape." The dictionary then cites as an example this passage from Kesey's first blockbuster novel, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest":

"I want you workin', not gawkin' around like some big useless cow!"

Likewise, the word "seam" is defined, among its other meanings, as "a join, line, furrow, groove, etc.," as in this passage, also taken from "Cuckoo's Nest":

"A seam runs across his nose ... where someone laid him a good one in a fight."

Other writers whose historical use of the word "seam" are noted in the new dictionary include Saul Bellow, William Cowper and George Orwell.

In all, Kesey's writing is quoted 24 times in the new dictionary, helping illuminate words from "beam" to "tally."

Finn Rock writer Lopez gets 22 quotations, including the uses of "grease," "inclinable," "scavenge," "skeletal" and "havoc."

His use of "havoc" is taken from Chapter 1 of his 1986 book "Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape," where he traces some of the history of man's relationship to the Arctic: "For theological writers in the seventh century, it was a place of spiritual havoc, the abode of the Antichrist."

The only other writer whose use of "havoc" is cited in the dictionary was an obscure English playwright named William Shakespeare. "And Caesar's spirit, Shall ... cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war," he wrote in "Julius Caesar."

Authors added to the new edition include J.K. Rowling, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell, Stephen Jay Gould and Quentin Tarantino.

For the insatiably curious, the dictionary concludes with a 30-page index of authors and publications used, from 17th century writer Robert Abbot to "ZX Computing Monthly," along with a one-page list of cited works of Shakespeare and books of the King James Bible.

The index makes interesting browsing; where else might you find Woody Allen mentioned in the same literary breath with H.R. Haldeman, Herman Melville, Larry McMurtry, "The Book of Common Prayer" (of 1662) and "Practical Woodworking"?

And then you start looking for who's not listed here. Graham Greene isn't. Neither is U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. You won't find Annie Proulx here. Or Jonathan Franzen. This may make you wonder what Stephen King and "Florist's Journal" (both included) have in their grasp of language that these writers lack.

Speaking of citations, most dictionaries have long outgrown omitting those words - you know which ones - that we still don't use in daily newspapers. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary includes quotations of these, as well: The f-word draws on work from Joan Didion and Anne Beattie, while the s-word pulls in, perhaps appropriately, Erich Segal (remember "Love Story"?)

We'll leave the rest of them for you to look up.


The two-book set defines 98,000 words and costs $150. THOMAS BOYD / The Register-Guard The index makes interesting browsing; where else might you find Woody Allen mentioned in the same literary breath with H.R. Haldeman, Herman Melville, Larry McMurtry, The Book of Common Prayer (of 1662) and "Practical Woodworking"?
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Title Annotation:Arts & Literature
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 26, 2003
Previous Article:What's in a name?
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