Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

(Oxford: OUP, 6th ed 2007): 3,804pp (2 vols), £78.80 (hbk), ISBN 978 0 19 920687 2; £33.19 (CD-ROM), ISBN 978 0 19 923176 8.

Reviewed by Michèle Clarke

Buy two volumes Buy CD-ROM 

Joy oh joy. I was sent the CD of the SOED (having glanced enviously through the hard copy that was offered as a raffle prize at the SfEP conference) and was eager to load it up to see how far dictionary CDs had come these days.

Lovingly given information

My own SOED hardcopy is the second edition: 1934, reprinted 1970 – still really useful when the computer is not up and running – but I really was due for an update.

I have always enjoyed looking up words in those soft precious pages, lovingly giving up of their information and probably still will. But there is another joy in being able to search quickly and efficiently on a CD, with a desktop icon always ready to hand.


And the advantages are many over the hard copy. The first is a pronunciation guide (fairly and randomly given in female and male voices) – those of us who never did get to grips with phonetic symbols will find this a real boon. There are some medical words that I know how to spell, but never know how to pronounce!

There is also no preciousness about pronunciation – you're allowed both clematis and clematis, for example. So there goes a dinner party discussion opportunity then.

Words of the day

There are other advantages:

  • advanced search with wildcard facilities
  • anagram and crossword puzzle solvers. (Although I always feel using them is cheating, they could help to enlarge one's knowledge.)
  • options to enlarge the font. (Oh, how I really do notice now that the print size in my hard copy has shrunk over the years!)
  • a 'word of the day' that pops up on opening the program. (Mine was kersey, which was very suitable as I recently went to the Suffolk village of Kersey, whence the word derives, and had dinner in their lovely pub! I simply had to try this function again, so I closed and opened the program and this time got avener. Horsy people will know what this is.)

The new 6th edition has 2,500 new words, phrases or meanings, plus 1,300 new illustrative quotes. Spellings and forms have been modernized and defining language updated. References, symbols and the like are explained, and there is an 18-page 'Introduction to English' by our honorary vice-president David Crystal. Apparently the hard-copy version of the SOED is one-tenth the size of the full OED and contains one-third of the latter's content.


I am rather impressed by the technology, I must admit. I used to have some dictionary or other from OUP as a CD-ROM (the word i-finger comes to mind), but I eventually couldn't be bothered with it – too slow and too complicated for me. Now, for once, I think I am happier with a CD-ROM than with the printed version.

Reviews of other dictionaries and thesauruses All book reviews