Macmillan Education has announced that, as of 2013, its dictionaries will now only be released in digital formats, thus forever depriving future generations of schoolchildren of the opportunity to discover which pages have the naughty words by their folded down corners. The last print editions of its English language dictionaries were printed this week. In lieu of physical copies focus will shift instead to Macmillan Dictionary Online, which combines the content of the company’s dictionary and thesaurus and presents it alongside a regularly updated language blog, a weekly ‘Buzzword’ column and, most tellingly, the Open Dictionary, a crowd-sourced resource that appears to operate in a manner similar to Urban Dictionary only presumably with fewer descriptions of nauseating sex acts. Presumably.
Editor in chief Michael Rundell took to the aforementioned blog on Monday to further explain the thinking behind the company’s decision, declaring outright that ‘The digital medium is the best platform for a dictionary.’ An ad for the transition displayed on Rundell’s blog post describes it as: ‘A smarter dictionary for a faster world. We’re setting the dictionary free, to reflect all the growth and creativity that English speakers bring to the language every day, all over the globe’ (which would also appear to answer any questions you might have about prescriptivism vs. descriptivism).
Rundell suggests that dictionaries serve an entirely different function from most other books, there to be consulted in a time of need rather than read for pleasure, and as such lose less than they gain from the transition to the ephemeral realm of the internet. Besides the paratextual paraphernalia listed above, definitions are no longer bound by worries about constraints of space, and can be supplemented with audio files demonstrating pronunciations and the like. Most importantly, entries can be updated instantaneously, rather than once every four or five years as became the norm between print editions. As Rundell puts it: ‘exiting print is a moment of liberation, because at last our dictionaries have found their ideal medium.’ Strong words. But then it’s not like he doesn’t have plenty to choose from.
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.