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A History of the «Concise Oxford Dictionary»


Malgorzata Kaminska

This book shows the evolution of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, a famous and innovative dictionary for native speakers of English. It traces changes in the dictionary from 1911 to recent times. By comparing samples from each edition, the author provides insights into the revisions of the dictionary. The analysis sheds light on the editors’ policy on various aspects of the dictionary’s structure, including definition style, vocabulary selection and sense discrimination. The study shows how the editors abandoned the telegraphic style of definitions and adapted them to the needs of the target users. As the dictionary evolved towards greater user-friendliness, it also aimed at broader vocabulary coverage.
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8. Definitions


In this chapter we will discuss the evolution of the defining language in COD, paying attention to the characteristics that the Fowlers claimed in the preface. The characteristics included the so-called ‘telegraphese’ and the linguistic orientation of the dictionary. The latter presupposed that the dictionary broke with the encyclopedic trend prevailing in most dictionaries from that period. The quantitative analysis of the defining style is presented in Table 4 at the end of the chapter.


The first edition of COD was admired as ‘a miracle of condensed scholarship’ and ‘a marvel of condensation, accomplished by skilful hands’ of the Fowler brothers (COD11, vii). The editors adopted the telegraphic style of definitions, to the degree which was probably unprecedented in the history of dictionary making. Describing the ‘peculiarities’ of the dictionary, the Fowlers explained in the preface that ‘space must be saved […] by the severest economy of expression – amounting to the adoption of telegraphese – that readers can be expected to put up with’26 27 (COD1, iv).

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