Oof! I almost missed it! Don't you, too. You can try the New Oxford English Dictionary online for free until February 5. Go to oed.com and use the log-in and password
trynewoed(that's try new oed all run together). The New OED is re conceptualized to really take advantage of its digital nature in a way that its online predecessor has never done. It offers hyper-links, search capabilities, graphing possibilities and new ways to present dense information.
There is a PowerPoint slide show tour that you can take as a tutorial. It shows you how you can do a quick search or a browse. You can browse through in dictionary mode, historical thesaurus, timelines, by sources, and by categories. You can save searches and results.
The quick search is a simple word/phrase search that brings back a group of dictionary terms and a sample of entries so you can decide which to click into for the full entry. But the advanced search capability is really fascinating to me. You can search in a number of different ways. You can search by entry, senses or quotation. Senses of the word, you are searching, is what is meant by "senses." Then they have a Boolean type search anywhere in the text of the OED, with a drop-down menu, where you enter your terms in to windows, and link them with the drop-down menu by choosing the Boolean connector, and choosing further how the terms will appear, "in full text," for instance, or in a ****. Then you can also use filters to select a subject area or a time period, for instance.
Results sets can be refined from a central panel by lots of different criteria: subject, language of origin, region, usage, part of speech, date of first citation or first cited in. You could also choose to see your word's usage in a timeline, set up as a bar graph. It shows the frequency of usage in fifty year blocks on the sample set in the tutorial.
With the new online OED, you can customize the display. You can control how the pronunciation guide displays, for instance. Or you can hover your cursor over a word within an entry and get its definition. You can also click on the quotation offered to see more information about the text, author or work as it appears in the OED. Each definition or sense of the word is linked into the historical thesaurus, showing when it first began to be used. And you can use the center panel to give you a thumbnail summary of the many terms that are presented in each lengthy entry. Real language geeks can click on "about this entry" to get cool details and graphs about the entry itself -- a neat way to package all the information that's in the entry, and compare it to the rest of the dictionary. And you can e-mail it to a friend, save it in your files or download it. You can browse neighboring entries, so it's like paging through a book, in that way.
The historical thesaurus is characterized as a semantic index, which I thought was an interesting way to think about it. There are links, of course, between the thesaurus and the dictionary. But the thesaurus creates an index-like hierarchy of the connected ideas leading to the terms, then displays related terms in chronological order of development. Using the thesaurus, you can see related concepts, as well as chronologically related terms. You can browse down the thesaurus tree, or search it using a simple search. The results come back showing every class where your term occurs. For instance, the tutorial uses "pundit" and finds it occurring in seven different classes. Once you see the entry, you can click on the term if you want to go read the full entry in the dictionary.
Under categories, law is one of the choices. Entertainingly, the timeline for "law" shows a peak in usage in the 1600's not matched since, but a second high point was reached in the second half of the 1800's. Since then, there has been a surprising drop-off. In our litigious times, there is a stunningly low showing on the graph. Of course, the low line on the graph for 2000 represents a 50 year time period and we've only completed 10 of those. So I should keep in mind that we are necessarily short. If you look back at the second half of the 20th century, "law" is making a pretty good showing, but not it has not been so low since the 1300's. Perhaps it merely means that there have been lots of other things to write about lately. What a cool tool!
You can also visit to see the top 100 sources for the quotations in the OED. And they even have a lovely feature on the simple search box, called "Lost for words?" Click it, and it will offer three or four random words to explore. Thank you, OED!