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Big box in the Corpus
When Oxford lexicographers first started working with corpus data in the 1990s, the two words big and box had no special relationship with each other and big was no more or less likely to occur with box than large or small. As a compound, big box was most commonly to be found in structures such as ‘big box of …’. The most significant collocate for ‘big box’ in our 1990s evidence is ‘chocolates’.
We see quite a different picture in the early 21st century, as this sample shows:
A different sense was clearly being used. Most examples are found in North American English; the use is rare in British English. So this new dictionary entry was created (for the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th edition revised, 2006):
big box n. N.Amer. informal a very large store which sells goods at discount prices, especially one specializing in a particular type of merchandize.
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