Latest Lowdown on Looking It Up the Shelf of Dictionaries Grows as Publishers Race to Keep Pace with a Changing Language. WORD REFERENCE BOOKS

By Christopher Andreae, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 6, 1992 | Go to article overview

Latest Lowdown on Looking It Up the Shelf of Dictionaries Grows as Publishers Race to Keep Pace with a Changing Language. WORD REFERENCE BOOKS


Christopher Andreae, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


WORD reference books worth their salt are long-term investments. They hardly reveal all their merits or failings at a glance. They are tools. You have to work with them awhile to discover their usefulness. Size is an important measure: how many thousand definitions they contain.

Probably a 20-volume dictionary today would be best on computer disk, but there are some massive single-volume affairs available.

One impressive new dictionary definitely warrants its 2-1/2-inch slot on the bookshelf. Containing more than 350,000 entries, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Third Edition, (Houghton Mifflin, 2,140 pp., $39.95) is clear but not too laconic. It boasts, apart from helpful usage notes and quotes, two features that are particular assets: a large number of pictures and separately boxed paragraphs on synonyms and word histories that are often - given the responsible atmosphere of this book - entertaining. The synonym entries discuss shades of difference between words of similar meaning, though for mere comprehensiveness in this area you'd still need a thesaurus or synonym dictionary.

Two other aspects of dictionary compilation are important. One is the attention given to "new words," in particular to their contextual origins and sensitive usage. Under this banner, slang and "vulgar" words find their place in modern dictionaries, no less than computerese. "The American Heritage Dictionary" also reports on usage problems, like "snuck" instead of the more proper, but less popular, "sneaked."

Another role of dictionaries is entertainment (or to widen the application of a "new" word usually reserved for TV shows, "infotainment.") Some compilers of reference works are clearly recognizing that they are, apart from being useful, also in the business of giving pleasure. Even the dignified "American Heritage" is not above announcing proudly that it is being used as a research source for questions on the TV program "Jeopardy!"

The surprising amount of space now allocated in bookstores under "Reference" surely indicates an increase in the popularity of these books. Dictionaries, thesauri, books of quotations, pronunciation, and spelling, not to mention encyclopedias, don't merely satisfy a thirst for correct knowledge, they can also offer various kinds of delight.

Not that there was a dearth of amusement in some such books in the past. Fowler's "Modern English Usage" and Brewer's "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable" (both still in print and periodically revised), as well as such freakier, somewhat temporary manifestations of the genre as "The Dictionary of Misinformation" by Tom Burnham (out of print), or Eric Partridge's dictionaries of slang and catch phrases, have perennially entertaining aspects for anyone intrigued by words and usages.

Among new contenders, the Tuttle Dictionary of New Words Since 1960 (Charles E. Tuttle, $16.95) certainly is entertaining. Its compiler, Jonathon Green, introduces himself as someone who makes dictionaries more for enjoyment than as a duty. Originally a British publication, it has a certain UK bias that American readers may find irrelevant or delightful or both. Here, for example, can be found definitions of "panda-crossing" (coined in 1962) and "car-boot sale" (1980), not necessarily survival terms in an average American's daily life. On the other hand, American neologisms, which generally cross the Atlantic more persuasively than vice versa, such as "hip-hop" (1985), "preppie" (1970), or "ball park (figure)" (1962), also abound. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Latest Lowdown on Looking It Up the Shelf of Dictionaries Grows as Publishers Race to Keep Pace with a Changing Language. WORD REFERENCE BOOKS
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.