I remember my first time. I was a late bloomer — it didn’t happen until my freshman year of high school. Odd, now that I think back on the whole thing. After all, I was a kid who spent more time in the library than on the playground (a pattern that continued into my adult life). Still I didn’t discover the Oxford English Dictionary until a sunny fall morning during a class trip to the library.
Standing there, staring at the twenty-odd volumes of words, I made a solemn vow to myself: someday I will own this. It will be mine.
Now, of course, there was no way I would be satisfied with the abridged version — condensed and so tiny that you needed a magnifying glass. For me, it was the full-on collection or nothing. So I began saving. I saved slowly because even a pack rat must acknowledge spatial limitations. To properly house such a tremendous item, and the OED is nothing if not tremendous, one needs a huge space. I had a small space.
Then one Christmas, my husband surprised me: he gave me the OED (meaning the money I’d saved went toward shoes). It fit in the palm of my hand. Little plastic disks and a clunky DOS-based interface, but who cared? It was the OED. I could, casually, pop over to my computer and look up any word I wanted at any time. It was the kind of heady power that comes when you can lay out the full etymology of “nutcase” (not really used prior to 1959 — who knew? Oh, I did.).
While I loved having my own OED at my beck and call, the technology was a problem. I moved to a Mac — my OED did not. Heck, I’m not sure it worked with Windows XP. And I was sad. Then the husband came through. Again. We’d been watching the progress of the OED online subscription feature with some interest, and one day, there is was: my very own subscription.
The annual subscription is $295 (which my husband will assure you is worth the price — it saves him from hearing me whine about not having my OED anymore). You can go with the monthly rate of $29.95. It makes a fine gift. Also, if you absolutely must see proof of this brilliant service, then, by all means, take advantage of the free trial.
Now I’m not going to pretend that the OED’s interface is slick and shiny. It’s still a bit clunky, somewhat reminiscent of the DOS version, only more flexible.
There are fun features, the sort of things that don’t fit nicely into print editions (like, oh, quarterly updates). A cool timeline of a word’s life (nay, for each definition of the word). Pronunciation help (ah, to have had that feature my entire life). The ability to shift between letters of the alphabet without dragging down heavy books. You can browse for hours — I note this as a feature and danger.
I could, and have, gone on for hours about why I like the OED. But my words will never match the beauty that is the actual dictionary. Thus I leave you with the definition of the word that inspired our name here, interloper
1. a. orig. An unauthorized trader; one who trespasses on the rights or privileges of any trade monopoly (see quot. 1896); a ship engaged in unauthorized trading (obs.).
c1590 H. LANE in Hakl. Voy. (1599) I. 375 From those parts the Muscouites were furnished out of Dutchland by enterlopers with all arts and artificers, and had few or none by vs. 1603-27 HORSEY Trav. etc. (Hakl. Soc.) 290 All interloperes and straglyng Englishemene lyving in that contrey weare gathered togather and appoynted to be transported. a1615 DONNE Ess. (1651) 66 Such..who are but Interlopers, not staple Merchants, nor of the Company. 1627 MINSHEU Duct. Ling. (ed. 2), Interlopers in trade. 1658 PHILLIPS, Interlopers, in Common Law, are those that without legal authority, intercept the trade of a company, as it were Interleapers. 1685 LUTTRELL Brief Rel. (1857) I. 326 The judges..gave judgment in the case of the East India Company and the interloper. 1725 Brice’s Weekly Jrnl. 9 July 1 Three Dutch Vessels, call’d interlopers, were taken in the Sea of Mexico by the Spanish Men of War. 1777 ROBERTSON Hist. Amer. (1783) III. 327 To station ships..upon the coasts of those provinces to which interlopers most frequently resorted. 1896 W. A. S. HEWINS in Dict. Pol. Econ. II. 436/2 Interlopers were persons who, not being members of the companies chartered by the crown, nor having a license from them, traded on their own account to the countries to which the companies had the sole trade.
Makes you all tingly, doesn’t it?