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Oxford English Dictionary Gives 'Information' The Royal Treatment

Chateau De Chambord

The OED built a palace for "information." But this is really an engraving of the Chateau de Chambord, built by King Francis I in Loir-et-Cher, France. Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive hide caption

itoggle caption Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive

"Information" is not a word most of us give a lot of thought to. We know it's important, because we live in the Information Age, afterall, but perhaps it's too amorphous a thing; it's a word that seems to have no end and while that may sound romantic, it's not something you could easily wrap your head around.

It seems the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, were feeling the same way. In the latest revision of the seminal English dicitionary, the definition gets an overhaul. As the wonderful people over at the New York Review of Books put it:

The renovation has turned a cottage into a palaceInformation, n., now runs 9,400 words, the length of a novella. It is a sort of masterpiece—an adventure in cultural history. A century ago “information” did not have much resonance. It was a nothing word. “An item of training; an instruction.” “That of which one is apprised or told.”

Michael Proffitt, managing editor of the OED, explains that the word had been on their list of things-to-do for a while now. He explains that the word has made its way from the 486th most used word in pre-1900 literature to the 22nd most frequently used word in a survey of online usage.

Proffitt explains the decision to rebuild the rustic entry thus:

Well, information does lack the ancient heft of stoneiron or bronze, but what makes it so distinctive as the fabric of mass communication is the very combination of immateriality and massiveness, its overwhelming diffuseness. It’s also a word which provides a point of imaginative sympathy between OED's editors and readers. The search for definitive information is the principal aim in our experience of writing the dictionary, as it is yours in reading it.

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