The times are truly changing. In a press release earlier this week, the Oxford English Dictionary announced that it may never again be released in print. This is not as bad as it sounds – it relates only to the third full edition of the 20 volume complete OED (known as OED3). The last full edition was released 21 years ago, and it’s estimated that the OED3 will only be ready to be published in 10 years time.

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The more familiar Oxford Dictionary of English, the single-volume version sold in bookshops, will continue to be sold. So, a slightly sensationalist press release that really doesn’t impact too many people (do YOU know of anyone who owns a full copy of the OED? Actually, wait, I know two…).

“The print dictionary market is just disappearing, it is falling away by tens of per cent a year,” Nigel Portwood, the chief executive of Oxford University Press (the OED publisher), told the Sunday Times. Asked if he thought the third edition would be printed, he said: “I don’t think so.”

Mr Portwood said printed dictionaries had a shelf life of about another 30 years, with the pace of change increased by the popularity of e-books and devices such as the Apple iPad and Amazon’s Kindle. He said: “Until six months ago I was clinging to the idea that printed books would likely last for ever. Since the arrival of the iPad I am now wholly convinced otherwise. The printed book is about to vanish at extraordinary speed. I have two complete OEDs, but never consult them – I use the online OED five or six times daily. The same with many of my reference books – and soon with most. Books are about to vanish; reading is about to expand as a pastime; these are inescapable realities.”

If you’re looking for harbingers of a changing world, then surely a non-printed Oxford English Dictionary is something really notable!

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