Using the BNC

Michael Quinion TheEditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Mon Dec 16 14:36:01 UTC 2002

Jonathon Green wrote:

> what it does not do, however, is give a page number for the
> material cited. It gives a page range (presumably those read for
> the Corpus), e.g. 'pp. 62-165' and the number of  's-units' and the
> total word count, but, as I say, no page number as such. This, for
> my purposes, and I would imagine those of other lexicographers,
> renders it more interesting than practically helpful.

I don't use it (I don't have access to it), but I do use the cut-down
CD-ROM version that was produced some years ago. My understanding is
that its great value, as with other corpora, lies in the opportunity
it gives to identify and rank collocations and to assess the relative
importance and frequency of various forms in a balanced image of one
regional type of English.

As others have mentioned, this is something that a search of Google
cannot so easily do, since there are all sorts of systemic biases in
the material that it indexes. Where Google scores over corpora,
however, is that it is a different kind of snapshot, one of current
English that is to a significant degree free from the strictures of
good taste and editing. I've found it immensely useful, for example,
when trying to judge whether a form has gained wide currency as a
folk etymology (chaise lounge, bare with me, without further adieux,

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <TheEditor at>
Web: <>

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