Lexicographer James A. H. Murray, the fin-de-siècle-editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, introduced the concept of the modern dictionary that have been in use from Victorian era to the present day. Thus, the very idea and shape of the printed dictionary have not changed much for more than a hundred years now. But, according to lexicographer Erin McKean (2007), the old book-shaped dictionary does seem obsolete for the modern wordbook.
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Additionally, computers and the Internet have not fundamentally transformed the format. Online dictionaries and electronic sources added the option to navigate and search for words more conveniently but left the old principle of word organization at heart. As McKean (2007) points out, the online format turned out to be paper “thrown up on the screen” and, in fact, inherited almost all issues of the printed wordbooks. These include the inconvenience of using and an inability to accommodate the great variety of words. The real innovation introduced by the Internet era was the websites and blogs of amateur lexicographers who began to collect new and rarely used words. However, they do not solve another issue — providing the context and the source for the words. As a result, modern word books require significant changes that would make them more user-friendly while retaining expertise.
Book-shaped dictionaries do not accommodate the full diversity of words in the language and artificially categorize words into “good” and “bad” or common and uncommon. However, printed dictionaries will not disappear altogether. According to McKean (2007), they will remain one of the shapes available. However, modern wordbooks critically need transformation, expansion, and more advanced digitalization. Essentially, future works will have to fit the greatest possible variety of words of the language.
McKean, E. (2007). The joy of lexicography [Video]. TED.