Try as they might, those Microsoft people have yet to produce a thesaurus that can meet the demands of the average high school student, let alone satisfy the yearnings of an intrepid sesquipedalian or budding etymologist (case in point: the most recent version can’t recognize at least two of the words in that sentence).

Enter the venerable Oxford English Dictionary. Last month, for the first time, anxious wordsmiths were able to consult the OED on-line. Subscribers can access the electronic edition of the 20-volume dictionary and are able to display its entries according to their individual needs — by choosing whether or not to view pronunciation keys or variant spellings, for example. They also can receive quarterly updates published as part of an ongoing effort to revamp the lengthy work.

For the past 10 years, the OED crew has been painstakingly charting the changes time hath wrought on the English language since the first edition was published in 1928. The US$55 million project is scheduled for completion in 2010.

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