The magical world of Oxford Online

When I think of Oxford University I think of carved stone buildings, gargoyles and hidden passages filled with black caped beings walking swiftly while discussing clever things. My Oxford is a sort of older person’s Hogwarts without Harry, Hermione and Ron.

Oxford University Press buildings
Oxford University Press buildings (Photo: Fractal Angel, CC BY-SA 2.0)

In reality, Oxford University is a terribly advanced place which has embraced technology as a way to spread its brilliance. We can see this at our library with:

  • Oxford Art Online Information on all things artsy including architecture, design, fashion and crafts. Includes a range of New Zealand and Pacific content;
  • Oxford Music Online The hills are alive with music reference and research within this resource;
  • Oxford English Dictionary Online Find spellings, definitions, pronunciation and examples of use. They even explain the use of the word bootylicious!

Not everyone is blessed with the academic brilliance of an Oxford academic but that is not to say we cannot be warmed from the glow of their collective genius. All the answers produced from their devoted studies has resulted in the above online databases that are just waiting to provide you with answers. All you need is to use your nimble fingers to ask the questions from the discomfort of an ergonomically faulty computer chair or your couch at home. Question everything!

– Colleen Finnerty, Knowledge Advisor.

Squee! It’s official – Twerk & Selfie are real words!

I think this is buzzworthy but apols if you already knew that the Oxford Dictionaries is constantly updated to include new words. If you suffer FOMO and want to be sure you’re up with the latest lingo, check out the August 2013 dictionary additions.

Wondering how they decide how to add a new word to the Oxford Dictionaries? It’s explained here.

Obvs, it’s not smart to use some of these slang words in a formal situation but srsly, common usage makes it ok to use them in casual chat among other geek chic. For your assignments however, I recommend using the more traditional Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The OED is regarded as the accepted authority for the meaning, history, and pronunciation of the English language whereas Oxford Dictionaries is all about the current, popular usage of language. 

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Both dictionaries are available online but you can avoid confusion by using the Library to access the more formal OED. Just click the Subject Guides & Databases link on the CPIT Library home page  then select the Encyclopedias & Dictionaries guide, where you’ll find the OED listed. Bookmark that page or add it to your Favourites – it’ll be totes handy for assignments!

If you prefer a print dictionary, you’ll find one beside each of the “stand-up” permanently logged in computers, some in the Reference Collection (in the orange room behind the Library service desk) and lots more upstairs on the general shelves at PE1625-PE1628. 

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Find synonyms fast!

Here’s a tip for quickly finding synonyms (i.e. different words that have the same meaning).

Type a word into MS Word or Outlook email, highlight it with your left mouse button, then right mouse click on the highlighted word.  A list of options will appear – select synonyms. You’ll often get a list of alternative words but there will also be a link to a thesaurus, so you can click that to see more suggestions.

Another trick is to use Google. Just enter define: (define colon space) followed by the word. e.g. define: thesaurus. If that doesn’t provide enough info, try clicking the extra links below the entry (see image below). The Merriam Webster dictionary even provides suggestions for words that rhyme with your word, e.g. thesaurus – Centaurus, sonorous.

These could be really handy tools if you’re trying to think of synonyms when preparing a database search, or if you want to come up with a different word to use in an essay. 

Google search result for "define: thesaurus"

If you want to explore word meanings in more depth, try the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which contains over 600,000 words and is considered the best authority on the meaning, history and pronunciation of the English language. Bookmark the OED now or add it to your Favourites – it’s bound to come in handy!

Vocabulary, jargon, and keeping up

It’s the beginning of a new course. You go to class, listen carefully, take notes – and still half of what is said makes no sense.

Every field of study or interest has it’s own vocabulary. I’m a knitter, and so I understand ‘i-cord’ and ‘intarsia’ – those of you who don’t knit probably won’t. I’m not into sport, so a rugby commentary is littered with words that I don’t understand – ‘scrum’, ‘breakdown’ and so on.

Academic disciplines are the same. Business, nursing, engineering – they all have their own vocabularies, often confusing to the newcomer. This is made worse if English is not your first language! It can make a big difference to you enjoyment and success in a course to understand the language used.

If you are finding some (or many) words you’re not familiar with, the library has some resources to help you.

Look it up

One of the most comprehensive general dictionaries is the Oxford English Dictionary – now available online.

Many other general dictionaries are available for loan from the library, at shelf location PE1625.

Struggling with New Zealand English? Have a look at The New Zealand Dictionary.

Subject-specific dictionaries are available for Business, Nursing, Midwifery, Science, Computing (or online here), Engineering (civil and electrical), and Art and Design – and many others, including Māori and many foreign languages. If there’s something you’re interested in, there’s probably a dictionary.