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Find more Dictionary Roundup
Each spring, the Reference Books Bulletin section of Booklist provides updated information on current, recommended dictionaries. The following sources are recommended for public, academic, and high-school libraries, based on currency, quality, cost, and availability. The recommended titles are listed by type, and the purchaser may choose within types depending on individual preferences or needs.
The Compact Oxford English Dictionary: Complete Text Reproduced Micrographically. 2d ed. Ed. by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. 1991. 2,416p. Oxford, $399.95 (9780198612582).
The Oxford English Dictionary. 20v. 2d ed. Ed. by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. 1989. 22,000p. Oxford, $995 (9780198611868).
The Oxford English Dictionary on CD-ROM: Version 4.0. 2009. Oxford, $295 (9780199563838).
The Oxford English Dictionary Online.
2000. Oxford [http://dictionary.oed.com/].
Ideally, any library that can afford it should have some version of this great dictionary. Practically, every library does not have it, but anyone with a college education should be aware that it exists.
Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.
2v. 6th ed. 2007. 3,472p. Oxford, $350 (9780199233250).
The statistics for the sixth edition are impressive. In two volumes it has more than half a million definitions drawn from the Oxford English Corpus database of more than 1.5 billion words. It has a third of the coverage of the OED but is one-tenth the size. It includes “all words in current English from 1700 to the present day, plus the vocabulary of Shakespeare, the Authorized Version of the Bible and other major works from before 1700.” The 2,500 new entries had to meet the rule of five—to be seen five times in five publications, including the Internet, within five years. An added feature of the sixth edition is an accompanying CD, which has Windows and Macintosh compatibility. With both The OED Online and the print Oxford English Dictionary too expensive for many libraries, this is a reasonably priced work deserving a place in almost every library.
Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary.
2d ed. 2005. 2,256p. Random, $69.95 (9780375425998).
This is a slight revision of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language (2d ed., 1987). A 1,000-entry new-word section listing words such as broadband, Disneyfy, smoothie, and urban legend begins the volume. The main part of the dictionary still contains more than 315,000 words, with black-and-white illustrations. Ready-reference material is incorporated into the definitions. For many words, the approximate date of first use is mentioned.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary: Unabridged. 2002. 2,816p. Merriam-Webster, $129 (9780877792017).
This is a slight revision of the ultimate U.S. unabridged dictionary, published in 1961. It contains more than 470,000 words. Some 14,000 new words are found in the “Addenda” section. Purchase includes a one-year subscription to Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 4th ed. 2006. 2,074p. Houghton Mifflin, $60 (9780618701728).
This printing of the fourth edition of AHD has added 500 new entries, among them blog, 9/11, and Rice, Condoleezza, as well as new color photographs. The editors concentrate on usage, which makes this more prescriptive than other current dictionaries. Notes—regional, synonym, usage, and history—appear in boxes by relevant entries.
The New Oxford American Dictionary.
2d ed. Ed. by Erin McKean. 2005. 2,096p. Oxford, $60 (9780195170771).
The first edition of this well-researched source of U.S. English was published in 2001. There are more than 2,000 new entries. The type appears larger, and a line or two has been added to the brief country histories to bring them up-to-date. Definitions continue to be organized around the “core meaning” (that is, “the one that represents the most literal use that the word has in ordinary modern American usage”). For libraries that didn’t purchase the first edition and need a current, comprehensive American-English dictionary, this is a real buy.
College or Desk Dictionaries
The American Heritage College Dictionary. 4th ed. 2007.1,664p.Houghton Mifflin, $26.95 (9780618835959).
This volume has the same attractive format as the larger American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, with photos and line drawings in the outside margin of each page. However, the illustrations are fewer, and they are not in color. AHCD also shares with its parent boxes for usage notes, synonyms, regionalisms, and word histories. Purchasers of the dictionary can register for a free download of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language plus Roget’s II: The New Thesaurus.
Concise Oxford American Dictionary.
2006. 1,024p. Oxford, $19.95 (9780195304848).
Here is a downsized version of The New Oxford American Dictionary (2d ed., 2005), with more than 180,000 entries and definitions as opposed to 250,000 in the original volume. Some of the entries have been condensed, mainly by offering fewer or truncated examples of usage. The reference section in the back of the encyclopedia has also been scaled down. Larger font size makes this dictionary easier on the eyes than its parent. A good alternative for very small libraries or as a supplemental or circulating dictionary in larger libraries.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.
11th ed. 2003. 1,623p. Merriam-Webster, $26.95 (9780877798095).
For this edition, Merriam-Webster’s lexicographers chose 10,000 new words, for a total of 165,000 entries and 225,000 definitions. There are 100,000 “changes” from the tenth edition. Users asked for more usage examples and idioms and phrases, so there are now 40,000 examples and a “significant” increase in idioms. There are 91,000 pronunciations, 33,000 etymologies, 2,700 illustrative quotations, 650 foreign words and phrases, and 700 illustrations. Purchase includes a CD-ROM and a free one-year subscription to the online version.
Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary.
Ed. by Anne H. Soukhanov. 2001. 1,678p. St. Martin’s, $24.95 (9780312280871).
Editor Soukhanov believes a dictionary should provide help for people who have trouble speaking or writing English. Thus, entries include misspellings (e.g., suprise, an incorrect spelling of surprise). Technological words are designated by a lightning bolt; support is so designated because the eighth definition is “to provide technical support for a computing system.” Not surprisingly, new words concentrate on technology. Illustrations are limited to a few small black-and-white photographs and simple line drawings. There are boxes for quick facts, correct usage, and “literary links.” The number of entries is greater than in other college dictionaries, but perhaps the misspellings are included in that number.
Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. 2d ed. 2005. 1,632p. Random, $26.95 (9780375426001).
This dictionary used to be updated annually, enabling the publisher to market it as the dictionary with “newer words faster.” That’s no longer the case. The prefatory material lists new words by decades, and a supplement provides a guide for avoiding insensitive and offensive language. Random House concentrates on definitions, so line drawings are few and far between. The dictionary comes with a CD-ROM.
Webster’s New Explorer College Dictionary.
2007. 1,280p. Federal Street, $14.98 (9781596950214).
Webster’s New Explorer Dictionary. 2005. 685p. Federal Street, $12.98 (9781892859761).
From the “value” division of Merriam-Webster come these dictionaries with around 100,000 and 75,000 definitions, respectively. Definitions are less detailed and more simply written than those in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Beside size, one difference between the two is that Webster’s New Explorer Dictionary has sections listing foreign words and phrases, biographical names, and geographical names. Inexpensive supplements to a library’s core dictionary collection.
Webster’s New Explorer Encyclopedic Dictionary. 2006. 2,272p. Federal Street, $39.95 (9781596950078).
It’s not altogether clear what makes this dictionary encyclopedic except that it has more than four times the words and definitions found in Webster’s New Explorer Dictionary (2005). A “New Words and Senses” section defines terms such as applet, arena football, and arm candy, which aren’t found in the main text. There are also separate sections for biographical and geographical names.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary. 4th ed. Ed. by Michael Agnes. 2004. 1,716p. Webster’s New World, $26.95 (9780764571251).
This dictionary is a descriptive source with fewer entries and illustrations than the other college dictionaries, yet it is the dictionary of choice for the Associated Press, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. Definitions are arranged historically, and Americanisms are starred.
Webster’s II New College Dictionary. 3d rev. ed. 2004. 1,536p. Houghton Mifflin, $25.95 (9780618396016).
Webster’s II has 200,000 entries, with no obscene words and very few illustrations. New entries include Amber Alert, human shield, and WiFi. Biographical and geographical definitions are in separate sections.
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