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Reports of the death of the cassette tape are greatly exaggerated

A few months back Oxford University Press received a good deal of attention in response to an announcement about new words that would be added to the 12th edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary (among them mankini, cyberbullying, and retweet). While the responses were largely positive, there was a certain amount of disquiet, which is hardly surprising – people frequently hold strong opinions about the English language.

What was considerably more surprising, however, was the large number of complaints about words that were cut; in particular, the complaints about the excision of cassette tape.  There were many articles about the dastardly deed committed by the lexicographers, who had mercilessly and unceremoniously removed this term without due consideration for the rich heritage of mixtapes in our history.  The Huffington Post (‘Oxford Dictionary Removes ‘Cassette Tape’, Gets Sound Lashing From Audiophiles’), the Christian Science Monitor, Time (‘As OED Makes Room for New Words, ‘Cassette Tape’ Gets Nixed’), as well as many other publications and blogs had stories about this, and in some cases actually found people who were very exercised about this deletion and were willing to be quoted about it (‘I’m going to ban the Oxford Dictionary from the museum’ raged the proprietor of a museum devoted to, among other things, cassette tapes).

The main reason this umbrage was particularly surprising is that cassette tape is, in fact, still in the Concise Oxford Dictionary (‘n. a cassette of audio tape’). It was never removed. Cassette player was indeed omitted from the latest edition of the Concise, but this does not mean, as some have averred, that the editors of the Concise Oxford feel that cassette players no longer exist, or are unworthy of our affection. The reasons behind the cull are more pragmatic than a falling out of love, as Angus Stevenson explains in this article.

Rest assured that there is no conspiracy at Oxford against the humble cassette tape or the cassette player. Although this imbroglio regarding the ostensible removal of cassette tape may have been misinformed, it did at least demonstrate that people are still using the word enough to make it very unlikely that it will disappear from current English dictionaries anytime soon. And, of course, even if the cassette tape itself did become obsolete, the word describing it, along with its history, origin, and earliest examples of usage, is permanently housed in that incomparable record of the English language through the ages – the Oxford English Dictionary.

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