I have wanted a complete Oxford English Dictionary since I was 17 and I lived in Sydney with the Bishops, who had one that they regularly consulted. Now I finally own one, the same compact edition with four pages reproduced on every leaf.
For years I did without an OED, what with the moves abroad, my status as an impoverished small-town reporter, or my lazy reliance on American Heritage. Then ten years ago, after we returned to the States from Cyprus, I found out you could get free access online with an Oak Park Public Library card, so I never bothered to buy my own OED.
Last year, the library canceled its online subscription to the dictionary, citing budget constraints. This happened even as they remodeled the ground floor and added a lounge that is so unused, they had to place a Ping-Pong table in there to lure people in. (Maybe they should distribute free blankets for nappers and hobos.) When I complained, they told me the subscription was too expensive and hardly anybody used it.
Why, I use it every day, I said.
We value your opinion, they said.
Filled with righteous indignation, I FOIed the remodeling budget and the OED metrics. Turns out they were right: They got fewer than 30 look-ups a month. And the cost (I’ve lost their lawyer’s email) was pretty high for a service whose customer base amounted to: me. So much for my plan to write a stinging letter to the editor of the local weekly. (“Sirs: On behalf of aggrieved writers everywhere, I wish to register my indignation at the priorities of our public library.”)
But now, thanks to an Amazon gift card from our older kid, I have my own OED, complete with case and the little drawer containing the squarish magnifying glass.
The word “working,” by the way, only dates to the 1300s. “Work” first appeared in 971. Not that that’s really relevant; I inherited Working from German immigrants, the Werkingers, who were apparently confused about how best to blend in when they arrived in Pennsylvania.