I’d like to begin by apologizing for this post’s title. I’m terribly, terribly sorry.
As I’ve noted earlier, I spend a lot of time working with digital representations of print resources. Which brings me to this article about the decision to make the Oxford English Dictionary a purely digital resource.
To give you some background, a housemate of mine owned the lovely two-volume OED that came with the magnifying glass. It was a source of much wisdom, including that fact that one definition of “fornicate” is “to play billiards.” We loved the OED for its insane thoroughness and thorough insanity; it was a magnificent reflection of the English language.
So now they’re moving it online, and not only do they have to worry about preserving its content in the face of changing technology, but they also must look backwards and realize that definitions a century and a half old might not be as helpful as they once were. But I have to wonder: do you preserve those less-than-helpful but wonderfully poetic definitions? Do you supplement them? Do you replace them?
The OED is both a reference resource and an oddly living history of the last 150 years of language. Its digital incarnation should be watched, as it could prove an illustrative tangle of the priorities of preservation and usability.