Scope and purpose
The Oxford English Dictionary is the most comprehensive dictionary of the English language. It traces the development of English from approximately 1150 AD up to the present day. The varieties of English covered include British English, American English, Australian English, New Zealand English, the Englishes of the Indian subcontinent, Southern Africa, and the Caribbean, among others.
The Oxford English Dictionary is not an arbiter of proper usage, despite its widespread reputation to the contrary. The Dictionary is intended to be descriptive, not prescriptive. In other words, its content should be viewed as an objective reflection of English language usage, not a subjective collection of usage ‘dos’ and ‘don'ts’. However, it does include information on which usages are, or have been, popularly regarded as ‘incorrect’. The Dictionary aims to cover the full spectrum of English language usage, from formal to slang, as it has evolved over time.
The Oxford English Dictionary has a highly organized structure, the principal building block of which is the entry. The Dictionary includes both main entries, which make up the bulk of the content, and cross-reference entries . Most entries contain information on all of the following: spelling, pronunciation, derivation, meaning, and usage.
The usage of each word, meaning, or idiom in the Dictionary is documented through comprehensive examples drawn from quotations taken from printed texts of the present and the past. These quotation paragraphs begin with the earliest recorded occurrence of a term, and follow its development up to the modern period, unless the documentary evidence shows that the term has fallen out of use along the way.
This basic arrangement holds true for all entries, though some entries have a more complex structure than others. These more complex entries are interesting reading in their own right. Many users find themselves browsing through related meanings, finding fascinating information that goes far beyond what they were originally looking for.
Definitions and derivations often include words displayed in capitals. These are cross-references to other entries where additional related information may be found. Sometimes cross-references appear in other contexts. Words are often linked to other words by meaning or origin. Tracing the paths laid by these cross-references is another way of discovering more about words and their interrelationships. In addition to cross-references within entries, the Dictionary contains some cross-reference entries, which help the user locate the main entry for a word that has a variant or obsolete spelling.
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