Why use the Oxford English Dictionary?

The language’s greatest compendium of definitions and word histories—all 600,000 of them—can be a wonderful tool for the corporate writer.

When the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association had to name a preferred dictionary in its style guide, Carol Meerschaert considered her multinational membership.

The association—based in Fairfield, N.J.—acts as a catalyst for women’s leadership in health care, and it claims nearly 6,000 members in 22 countries. Many of its contributing writers are volunteers. For some, English is their second language.

Meerschaert, the marketing and communications director, chose the Oxford English Dictionary. “You’ve got to pick one,” she says, “and you want one that’s really good.”

The 20-volume OED is such a majestic presence—with etymologies dating back more than 1,000 years—it can scare off the busy communicator looking up a word on deadline.

Free access with a library card

Nowadays all 600,000 listings in the OED are available on its website, making a word check more manageable than paging through the dictionary. This makes it a world-class tool not only in looking up an odd usage, but figuring out everything from scientific to theological terminology. Access is free if you possess a library card from an institution that subscribes. (If not, a subscription to the complete dictionary will set you back $295 a year.)

To read the full story, log in.
Become a Ragan Insider member to read this article and all other archived content.
Sign up today

Already a member? Log in here.
Learn more about Ragan Insider.