(This document was written in Spring 1995)

Thanks to the kindness of the folks at UVa's Libraries we (the Reference Librarians) have had a limited opportunity to explore the uses of the OED in its online form. For me (Hugh Blackmer) this is realization of a long-run dream, an opportunity to interrogate a favorite resource in ways that are simply impossible using paper. I have mounted a number of my discoveries here; the emphasis is on my own personal view of the OED as an investigatory tool.

You should be aware of several books about the OED. Some general thoughts and bits of fact about the OED may also be useful.

Several of the examples below use tables, which require the use of a visual browser like Netscape and are difficult to view with lynx.
Peach makes a nice example of the wealth tucked away in OED entries (Dr. Craun noted that the word for the fruit [well, drupe...] is Persian in origin; this example demonstrates how it has been Anglicised, and in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th meanings we see some of the joys of homonymy)
I've been interested in Anglo-Indian English for many years. Here are some explorations in that realm:
In describing the calculus, Newton used the term 'fluxion' where we would now use 'differential'. What's the HISTORY of the term as reflected by its use in OED quotations?
Another long-standing wonderment has been the many words for kinds of cloth in English. In the absence of wildcard searching (which IS available when the OED is searched using OpenText software, but not in the 'dumbed down' WWW form) it turns out to be difficult to do exhaustive searches, but here are several lists that represent my initial strategies for this research:
Tyler Lorig asked if I'd look into these words:
A friend asked about these words:
Answer to a reference question: Is Glitzy really a word?
Pshaw was my mother's fiercest expression of displeasure (TABLE)
Retrieval of all instances of a term in quotations and of all references to an author would be impossible in the print version:
A passage in a Robertson Davies novel alluding to "the barber's chair that fits all buttocks" has amused me for years. Come to find out R.D. borrowed it...
  • Quatch
    Kickshaw is another word that turns up in odd places
    How does the OED handle an 'offensive' term? The quintessentially English 'wog' is an interesting example, and 'coarse slang' gives an idea of the breadth of the Second Edition's coverage.
    And how about one for adolescent males? vomit will serve nicely...
    Initially I saw little use for the Browse entries search, but on a whim I tried - as a search, on the off chance that it might work to recover the many suffixes [ -xxx ] in the OED. Much to my surprise, it worked. Here's the output from a search for -mancy in entire. And the -ectomy and -emia words.

    The possibility to gather ALL of the quotations of a given author or in a given work is delicious:
    It is possible to limit searches by time in a number of ways, and thus examine a year in the life of English (just the first 100 of the quotations of books published in 1914 and 1919 are shown), or seek quotations from a specific century or period, such as the occurrences of 'set' before the 12th century.
    And of course the joys of etymology: