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Words to the Wired

This week, the venerable Encyclopdia Britannica (which has been around for 231 years) decided to post its entire contents on the Internet - for free - hoping to make money with ads, as well as with sales of its bound and CD-ROM versions.

Also, that classic compendium of language, the dictionary, may be disappearing from bibliophiles' bookshelves into cyberspace.

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The publisher of the 120-year-old Oxford English Dictionary (OED) - which has been on CD-ROM since 1989 - may decide that the third edition, due in 2010, will be available only online. After all, the projected 40-volume bound version can hardly be considered a handy source.

And Microsoft's Bill Gates has joined the electronic reference revolution with his Encarta World English Dictionary, a listing of global variations of English that has provoked some negative commentary. Created by lexicographers worldwide who were linked by e-mail, it's online, of course (but also available in traditional fat library format).

Lovers of hardcovers will mourn the potential loss of books to browse in. But post-paper readers who are already wired will welcome the speedy cyber-resources.

And while small libraries may welcome the shelf space freed up by an electronic OED, surely at least one hard copy of the latest guide to the Queen's English should be delivered to Buckingham Palace.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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