Adopt a word: Prandicle (and why the Oxford English Dictionary is doomed)

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Ever wondered what happens to old words that get out of use? Well, I guess they just disappear, usually. So far, the official way of this happening was (again, I’m guessing here) when they got edited out of the dictionary of choice. So the Oxford English Dictionary launched a lovely campaign, plus website, called Save The Words. There, you can adopt a word and pledge to “to use this word, in conversation and correspondence, as frequently as possible to the very best of my ability.” I love the idea, and adopted the word prandicle, meaning a “small meal”. So from now on I can say stuff like “Oh dear, shall we have a prandicle in the near future?” (Neat, eh?)

Prandicle

There’s two things that struck me as odd, though. First up, I checked if the word was on Wikipedia. Turns out, it’s not at this point. I wanted to add it, but one of the governing rules of Wikipedia is not to write an article that consists of just a sentence, or a link, or with weak references. So I tried to go the way of all initial research, i.e. I googled for “prandicle” with seriously limited success. The word hardly exists outside the context of this campaign website. Makes sense, I guess, after all that’s why the campaign to save the words was started. Still, it’s curious to see how a word could completely disappear because it was out of use before the web emerged.

So I wanted to go back to the Oxford English Dictionary (oed.com) to find out more about my linguistic adoptee, and that’s when the second problem struck me: The OED is completely hidden behind the paywall. I should have known that, after all that’s party of why Wikipedia is so incredibly successful: The traditional dictionaries aren’t accessible from the web. At the OED, you can’t even get a simple free trial unless you’re an institution. Private users are required to pay 195 British Pounds (roughly 280$ / 220€) plus VAT. Upfront. Not even a test. Is this a joke?

Of course you could come to different conclusions. Either you say “ok, premium content, I’ll happily pay more than 200 Euros per year for a good dictionary. It’s how it works”. Or you go the directly opposite direction, which was my initial reaction. That is, you close the window. It’s a single click, it’s free, and you know very well that all words that are actually used are in the Wikipedia. (I double checked for “prandicle” in an old “Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary from school days, and it wasn’t covered there either.)

Like this, the OED is simply doomed, unless it can live off institutional subscribers completely, which in the long run I doubt. They need to find a way to live off the web, and offer their basic services for free, or they’ll simple cease to play any role in the dictionary space, or even cease to exist. Maybe it’s not too late.

Still, prandicle is a nice word. Please, OED, don’t let it go to waste by hiding it behind a paywall.

(via AlienTed)

Update: The Enyclopedia Britannica seems to have a better approach. Sadly, they don’t know “prandicle” either. Anyone with references to put the word up on Wikipedia, please get in touch ;) Update: Wordia has a nice collection of words, described mostly in videos. (Thanks, Stuart Brown!)

3 comments

  • Hmm I am more optimistic. I think the OED can survive from institutional subscriptions because a) I would be severely unimpressed with any English-speaking uni that didn’t have a subscription (kind of a staple..like having chemistry classes!) and b) it’s not an ordinary dictionary in the sense that it has extremely good (very far back, detailed) etymology, which appeals to it’s target market of professors (but probably wonks of all kinds) who would be willing to pay for that service (or revolt if their uni didn’t pay for it). Perhaps with the right marketing they could piggyback off “globalization” and people wanting to learn English (again targeting the university market).

    But I think you’re right, they will have troubles. I think if they cut back anywhere it will be researching the history of certain words. So they’ll keep adding words, just not research the history and 17th century usage of words like ‘prandicle.’

  • “prandicle”: never heard of it, ;-) that’s a fantastic word! Nice campaign also. However, the site is currently not available or as they put it: “SavetheWords.org is in a temporary state of apanthropinization”, Now that is a wicked word!