Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

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The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (SOED) is a scaled-down version of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It comprises two volumes rather than the twenty needed for the full second edition of the OED. The sixth edition was published in August 2007.[1]

An abridgement of the complete work was contemplated from 1879, when the Oxford University Press took over from the Philological Society on what was then known as A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles. However, no action was taken until 1902, when the work was begun by William Little, a fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He laboured until his death in 1922, at which point he had completed "A" to "T" and "V". The remaining letters were completed by H. W. Fowler ("U", "X", "Y", and "Z") and Mrs. E. A. Coulson ("W") under the direction of Charles Talbut Onions, who succeeded Little as editor.

Onions wrote that SOED was "to present in miniature all the features of the principal work" and to be "a quintessence of those vast materials" in the complete OED.

The first edition was published in February 1933. It was reprinted in March and April of that year and again in 1934.

A second edition appeared in 1936, and was reprinted in 1939.

A third edition was published in 1944, reprinted in 1947, 1950, 1952, and, with an addendum of new entries, in 1955. The third edition was published in America under the name The Oxford Universal Dictionary. A reset version of the third edition, with new addenda and with the etymologies revised by G. W. S. Friedrichsen, was published in 1973. This was also published in 1983 by Book Club Associates in the United States as the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

The whole text was completely revised for the fourth edition, which was published in 1993 as the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary under the editorship of Lesley Brown. The book aims to include all English words which had substantial currency after 1700, plus the vocabulary of Shakespeare, John Milton, Edmund Spenser, and the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible.[2] As a historical dictionary, it includes obsolete words if they are used by major authors and earlier meanings where they explain the development of a word. Headwords are traced back to their earliest usage.

The fifth edition was published in 2002,[3] and contains more than half a million definitions, with 83,500 illustrative quotations from 7,000 authors.

On September 21, 2007, 16,000 words lost their hyphens in a 6th edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.[3] Angus Stevenson, editor of the Shorter OED, stated the reason: "People are not confident about using hyphens anymore, they're not really sure what they are for." Its researchers reviewed 2 billion words (in newspapers, books, web sites and blogs from 2000). Bumble-bee is now bumblebee, ice-cream is ice cream and pot-belly is pot belly, etc.[4][5]

Electronic versions

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is available on CD-ROM for Windows and Macintosh.[6] Version 3.0 of that CD-ROM is copy-protected using SecuROM.

The dictionary is also available as an electronic download plug-in for WordWeb for Windows[7] and for Mac OS X.[8]

In addition to all of the contents of the traditional paper dictionary, the electronic versions include:

  • Audio pronunciations
  • Automatic look-up of words from other applications
  • Search functions
  • Crossword solver and anagram functions


  1. Oxford University Press, Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Sixth Edition
  2. Oxford University Press, The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Fourth Edition, 1993, Preface
  3. 3.0 3.1 Oxford University Press, The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Sixth Edition, 2007, Preface to the sixth edition
  4. "MSNBC, Hyphens perish as English marches on". Archived from the original on 2009-10-09. Retrieved 2007-10-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Reuters, Thousands of hyphens perish as English marches on (Retrieved 18 May 2008)
  6. Oxford University Press, Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 6th Edition on CD-ROM
  7. WordWeb Software, Windows version Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
  8. WordWeb Software, Macintosh version Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

External links