Getting Started with the Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is a historical dictionary, providing not only the current meaning of over half a million words, but the history of individual words in chronological order by first use as well as pronunciation keys (British, U.S.). It is also a historical thesaurus. The OED is updated every three months.
How to access the Oxford English Dictionary
- Go to tpl.ca and enter Oxford English Dictionary in the search box
- Click on Access Online under Oxford English Dictionary
- Enter your library card number and PIN
Type the word or phrase you’re looking for in the Quick search box . The quick search finds main dictionary entries.
If you are not on the main home page, the Quick Search box is on the top right of the page.
Lost for Words below the Quick search box will give you three random words to look up. New words appear if the page is refreshed.
Near the Quick search box are several Browse options:
- Dictionary - browse the dictionary from A to Z
- Categories - browse words by subject, usage, region, or language of origin
- Timelines show as a bar graph the number of words recorded by the OED within various time periods or when words entered the English language
- Sources provide details about the most frequently quoted authors or works in the OED
- Historical Thesaurus is not only synonyms but the different words used for a particular concept or meaning over time
Anatomy of an Entry
This example of an entry for a word illustrates most of the types of categories and information the use may come across.
The word itself is in large red font at the top. The "n." is the part of speech (noun) and the number listed along with it (“4”) indicates the chronological order of the definition of the word i.e. the definition of the word was introduced into the English language (in 1849) later than gully, n.1, n.2 and n.3.
Immediately below this are two options you can toggle between: an Outline version, without quotations and with Forms and Etymology truncated; and a Full entry, which shows how the word is used historically and the context.
Following that, are brief notes on pronunciation, forms over time, frequency of use, origin and etymology.
The actual definition of the word (in this case “a narrow passage between buildings; a lane or alley”) floats in the middle of the page with white space around it so that it stands out to the eye.
After this, compound words or phrases containing the word are listed.
In the area surrounding the entry are several links and commands that includes:
- Help on Dictionary Entry
- Print reformats the page for printing
- Email gives a temporary sharable ink to the entry
- Cite allows user to select from various citation formats and export
- Save requires the creation a personal profile
To the right are sidebar entries giving extra information about the OED entry and is useful as a navigation aid if the entry is long and complex. Links give user information on:
- when the entry was last updated
- earlier states of the word and its context in the English language including visual representations in the form of timelines
- a timeline of how the senses of the word have changed or developed
The Top Toolbar
The About page starts with a featured article, and then as you scroll down it reveals information on, and links to, OED Labs material, such as a Researcher API and Text Visualizer. There are also video guides and an interactive graphic about the OED’s mission to record all word stories, capturing their development as they continue to unfold. Lastly you’ll notice a resource centre, the history of the OED, and information on the print version (which has existed for over 100 years!)
The Blog is where you can read articles on the latest linguistic research, read quarterly updates from OED staff, and access information on OED Appeals. OED Appeals is a new part of OED’s website, but has been a part of OED since the very beginning. It is where OED editors ask for your help in uncovering the history of particular words and phrases.
Community is where you can see more detailed information about OED Appeals and feel free to contribute.
Access shows you the institution you are using to view and access all OED content (in our case, Toronto Public Library).
Personal profile is where you can find all entries you save, organize them, and also access your personal preferences.
Create a personal profile
Creating a personal profile is optional, but it does allow the you to save entries and searches, as well as create, name, and manage folders of saved items. It also allows you to set personal preferences such as how many results they would like to see per page and whether they wish to view quotations, forms, and etymological information in contracted or expanded form by default.
A personal profile can only be created using a Microsoft web browser (Edge or Internet Explorer). However after it is created, any browser can be used to log in to the OED.
OED does not have an official app. Third party developers have created a few apps, but they have paywalls and do not support the sign-in profile feature.
Helpful OED resources includes:
- Abbreviations used
- How to use the OED
- Key to symbols and other conventions
- Video Guides:
For more information or for help, please contact our Answerline service.