Letter to Oxford English Dictionary: Redefine 'unlimited'

Since the Advertising Standards Authority isn't willing to force telecoms companies to stop using the word 'unlimited', it's time to take a more drastic interim measure

Nate Lanxon Special to CNET News
2 min read

I've decided to write an open letter to the Oxford English Dictionary to suggest it adds an extra definition to its entry for 'unlimited', so consumers can realise that 'unlimited' also means 'limited'.

I, along with pretty much everyone in the tech industry, am sick of companies advertising 'unlimited' bandwidth, downloads and the such, only to impose stringent 'fair use' limits.

Since the Advertising Standards Authority isn't willing to force telecoms companies to stop using the word 'unlimited' when, in fact, they should use 'limited', it's time to take a more drastic interim measure.

The full letter is below, and for further reading, be sure to check some of our previous coverage of 'unlimited' claims made by companies.

1) Unlimited broadband may 'disappear'
2) They call it unlimited, but it really isn't
ISPs reject uSwitch 'unfairness' claims

Dear Sir/Madam,

For over a century, the Oxford English Dictionary has stood as an authoritative, comprehensive and complete written record of the English language. Revisions to the text have compensated for the literary evolution that takes place throughout our lives, and the inclusion of new words and emerging definitions have accurately reflected the language's growth as it moves with us through our modern world.

So it is with great respect for the work undertaken by the editors -- both current and past -- that I suggest an amendment to the existing definition of the adjective 'unlimited'. I believe I'm in a position to appreciate that this is a word that modern linguistic evolution has had a profound and confusing effect, which may have escaped the attention of those who reside outside the consumer technology industry.

The existing definition of 'unlimited', as ascribed by OED, is as follows:

un{sm}limited, ppl. a.

1. Not limited or restricted in amount, extent, or degree:
a. Of power or authority, a rule, etc.

b. In other applications.

2. Not limited in number.

3. Math. (See quots.)

4. Of a hydroplane: having no limit placed on its engine capacity. Also absol. as n. U.S.

'Unlimited', however, has been subject to evolution via common verbal usage, into an adjective that describes the properties of, in fact, 'having a limit' and being of 'exhaustible supply'. This evolution has taken place inside the vernacular language of telecommunications advertisers in the 21st Century. But as this directly affects the entire general public, both native speakers of English or otherwise, I feel an additional definition is required to allay confusion:

5. Surreptitiously limited in quantity

While I appreciate it is not customary to change or alter definitions as a result of isolated usage, I believe it is worth you being made aware that the nature of competitive advertising is forcing some companies to redefine words for their own benefit. The repercussion is that the general English-speaking public is forced into confusion over what should be a simple English word.

Your thoughts on the matter are most welcome, and above all valued.

Yours sincerely,

Nate M. Lanxon