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Stop the presses – the end of the printed dictionary

6 November 2012

From the Macmillan Dictionary Blog:

Umberto Eco recently argued that “The book is like the spoon, the hammer, the wheel. Once invented, it cannot be improved”. But dictionaries are different from other books. Like maps and encyclopedias – but unlike novels or newspapers – dictionaries are things you consult (while you’re doing something else) rather than things you read. For any kind of reference enquiry, the book really can be improved upon, and at Macmillan, we’ve taken the decision to phase out printed dictionaries and focus on our rich and expanding collection of digital resources.

The digital medium is the best platform for a dictionary. One of its advantages is that we can now provide all kinds of supplementary resources – like this blog.

. . . .

But probably the biggest benefit of being online is that the dictionary is always up to date. Traditionally, a printed dictionary would be updated once every four or five years, but – in the intervening period – the language didn’t stop developing. Think of all the new vocabulary that came with the global financial crisis, for example (when we got to know about subprime mortgages, credit default swaps, and quantitative easing), or the linguistic consequences of the social networking revolution (words like unfollow, defriend, and twittersphere): Facebook and Twitter were just starting up when the last (printed) edition of the Macmillan Dictionary appeared in 2007, and had yet to make an impact on the language. Nowadays we can add new words on a regular basis – the latest batch includes outlier, soft power, smirting, andmumpreneur – and this has huge advantages for our users.

Link to the rest at Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Books in General

15 Comments to “Stop the presses – the end of the printed dictionary”

  1. But I need the physical book! I mean, how else can I look up stuff when I’m writing without turning to The Great Distraction (ie the internet)?

    Of course, my physical dictionary is almost 30 years old at this point…

    And what will kids do during detention? Copy and paste entries from one file to another? 😉

  2. Bartholomew Thockmorton

    I’m still using the New Century Thorndike Dictionary given to my mother in 1938…ah, bliss!

  3. Hmmmm. I feel alittle sad about it, but I agree with the article. I don’t have a dictionary anymore. I don’t need one. I have spell-check and on-line sources.

    Like the encyclopedia and thesaurus, it’s all on-line.

  4. I’m surprised that this blog doesn’t mention an existing online dictionary that is “crowdsourced” (I hate that word), often very up to date, & available in more than 26 languages: Wikionary, one of the Wikimedia projects.

    I’m not saying it’s perfect — having contributed to Wikipedia for over 10 years I probably know more about its flaws than anyone here — but it does work quite well in a pinch when I can’t or don’t want to use one of my dictionaries to look up a word. And whatever Macmillan creates will need to be visibly better than Wiktionary — which won’t be that hard. (It just requires some imagination & a willingness to be flexible.)

  5. Ah, gee. Our old unabridged Websters was perfect for letting toddlers sit on post highchair and pre adult chair.

  6. Umberto Eco is not as smart as he thinks he is.

  7. It’s been years since I kept my physical dictionary close to my desk. Merriam Webster online is much more convenient. Or dictionary.com or wiktionary or any of the dozens of other possibilities. The only physical dictionary I still use on occasion is my big unabridged dictionary. I can sometimes find information in there that I can’t find online.

  8. I have some 12 dictionaries in my house. While I could never imagine my world without them, it dawns on me I haven’t opened any of them in ages.

  9. In 1991, Tim Berners-Lee introduced the world to HTML and HTTP. In 2012, MacMillan noticed…

  10. …and they’re only now adding “outlier”? Sheesh, the health care industry has been throwing this term around since 1984.

  11. My kids use printed dictionaries all the time for homework. We had a brief spell when 2 of the 3 adult ones were hiding, and the 2 kiddie dictionaries are not up to the demands of 5th grade work. There was intense competition!

  12. I’d praise them for being forward-thinking, but realistic is probably more like it. These kinds of books are facing annihilation. They don’t satisfy paper lust like novels do.

    Funny that he thinks newspapers are relevant, though.

  13. I enjoy reading a dictionary, page by page…

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