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Writing essays | Oxford Dictionaries

As a historical dictionary, the OED shows how words can change and extend their meanings over time. Here we look at the stories behind some everyday words (old and new), along with some tales of word hunting.

Oxford English Dictionary - Official Site

The OED started life more than 150 years ago. Today, the dictionary is in the process of its first major revision. Updates revise and extend the OED at regular intervals, each time subtly adjusting our image of the English language.

Oxford Dictionary of English - Oxford Reference

Wodehouse in the OED

Why? Well, information does lack the ancient heft of stone, iron or bronze, but what makes it so distinctive as the fabric of mass communication is the very combination of immateriality and massiveness, its overwhelming diffuseness. It’s also a word which provides a point of imaginative sympathy between OED‘s editors and readers. The search for definitive information is the principal aim in our experience of writing the dictionary, as it is yours in reading it.

In addition to of revised entries and new words, the OED Online publishes regular commentaries on the language, written by the dictionary’s editors and specialist authors. We’ll be adding to these to create sets of features that are, we hope, informative, interesting, and entertaining.

essay_1 noun - Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

Tolkien and the OED
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Here at the OED, as work on the progresses, we are nothing if not information-rich. The proliferation online of text archives, historical corpora, and searchable facsimiles has vastly enhanced the quantity and depth of linguistic data at our disposal for research. Where the dictionary’s original editors often struggled to find sufficient quotation evidence for common senses (volunteer readers tending naturally to alight on the exotic or unfamiliar), today’s historical lexicographers struggle to deal with the copiousness of evidence. Abundance is—well, abundant. The adverse psychological impact of the information age manifests itself linguistically, in information overload (1962) and in the entry for (1991). Although those two last phrases are simply the latest additions to OED‘s coverage, for those engaged in any form of online research they could just as well describe the arc of a working day. Perhaps this is why the OED definition of information fatigue, while entirely accurate, also sounds faintly heartfelt:

The emergence of computer technology roughly coincides with the OED Supplement’s second round of work on information. itself was added in the 1976 Supplement volume with a first date of 1958, but now in OED3 it appears as a separate entry, with quotation evidence dating from 1952 (in a slightly different sense). The Supplement’s editors identified and included many of the earliest compounds evoking the sense of information as data, something to be stored, processed, or distributed electronically: information processing, information retrieval, information storage (all three dated from 1950). In quick succession came terms relating to the academic study of the phenomenon, appearing in a neatly logical sequence: first the idea (information theory, 1950), next its budding adherents (information scientist, 1953), then the established field of study (information science, 1955).

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Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary - Official Site

The earliest compound attested in OED (information office) dates from 1782. It first described a service for British colonists arriving in India, later a similar function to other groups of international emigrants and travellers. In the mid-to-late nineteenth century, mass transit and communications began to take shape. Compounds arising in that period reflect information as a commodity with supply and demand: information-giving (dating from 1829), information-seeking (1869), information gathering (1893). They also tend to suggest relatively small-scale means of collection and distribution: information bureau (1869), information room (1874). In the last decades of the nineteenth century we begin to find terms which evoke some idea of professionalization: information agent (1871), information service (1885), information officer (1889), information work (1890), and information gatherer (1899). The abiding sense is that information can be collected, managed, marshalled, and disseminated. The means are formal but typically interpersonal: one person with the requisite expertise could find you what you need to know. Information is controllable and controlled; entrusted to some, who provide it for others.

essay Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary

Information began life in English with a specific sense, borrowed from (Anglo-Norman) French: accusatory or incriminatory intelligence against a person. Excepting specific legal contexts, that’s no longer an active sense, though it survives as a dominant meaning of related terms like and . Ostensibly, information became a more neutral term, but it has always retained the sense of something that might be offered or exchanged to someone’s advantage. Perhaps because information is such a tradable commodity, as a word it also tends to form attachments freely, as shown by the greatly expanded array of compounds in the revised OED entry. The way in which a word combines with others can be highly revealing not just of its semantic reach (how its meanings grow and flourish) but of its wider cultural associations.

Dissertation Oxford English Dictionary

The growing availability and abundance of information through print, broadcast, and then digital media is inevitably mirrored in the increasing use of the word. Its rising profile can be measured by counting and ranking the frequency of its appearances in searchable text corpora amassed over the past few decades. The Project Gutenberg corpus of mostly pre-1900 literature lists it as the 486th most frequent word; the 1967 Brown Corpus of contemporary American English places it 346th; and the 1997 British National Corpus lists it as 219th. A recent survey of online usage reported information as the 22nd most frequently used word. While these statistics need to be treated with some caution—neither the corpora themselves nor the analytical methods applied are strictly comparable—the impression they convey is accurate. This is an old word with a new lease of life. Its prolific growth is reflected in a revised OED entry twice the size of the original.

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