What dictionary do you prefer, and why?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by foxfirebrand, Sep 4, 2005.

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  1. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Cuchuflete suggested I start a new thread with this post I made when The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language was mentioned. It's the one commonly referred to first on the http://dictionary.reference.com site.

    My default dictionary tends to be the American Heritage-- I acquired my hard copy over 40 years ago (yike!). One reason I like it is that it emphasizes etymology over usage, and has one of the first glossaries of the reconstructed Indo-European Ursprache ever included in a dictionary meant for the general public. It also orders entries with multiple definitions in a manner that reflects their evolution to some degree. Original meaning(s) first, then the major variants that have evolved, then the minor ones, then the obscure and archaic-- coming full cycle as it were. This works great for me, but it's a quirk of lexicography that can mislead people who use a dictionary simply to look up meanings.

    The entry for lovely is a perfect example of this idiosyncratic feature of the American Heritage Dictionary. In no way would I ever use the word in its original, and first-listed, sense-- and if I ever heard it so used I'm sure it would jar my attention and stick in my memory.

    I guess the reasoning is, if you list the "preferred" sense of a definition first, your dictionary will eventually become obsolete in a generation or two. It will lack neologisms, but most of us pick up those in everyday usage, and it does take a while for the enduring ones to sort out. I cringe at the annual list of "updated entries" that comes out-- some of them are dated by the time they make their official debut!
  2. MrMagoo

    MrMagoo Senior Member

    Westphalia, Germany
    Westphalia, Germany; German

    The dictionary I've been using for years is the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English by A.S. Hornby.

    My edition is from 1976, I think.
    It's a very chunky but quite well-elaborated dictionary.
    Clearly arranged entries with brief, but adequate definitions.

    The lemma is followed by a phonetic transcription in IPA, also for US-English if this varies.
    For verbs, it includes "verb patterns" that show you how a verb is to be used in a sentence. (I have never used them though, never been able to figure out how exactly they work... *lol*).

    In my opinion, this is a very good dictionary, not only for English-learners.
    I'm missing any etymological antries though, but Fox seems to have a very good one for those! ;)

    When I was at school, I had to get myself another English dictionary by "Pons" - that one is crap! Generally speaking, it's the total opposite of Hornby's dictionary: not compact, not really well-arranged entries and LONG and complex entries, partially these entries don't even make sense... don't buy it, it's not worth the money.

  3. modgirl Senior Member

    USA English, French, Russian
    I use Webster's New World College Dictionary. It's what every professional editor and publisher for whom I've ever worked in the United States has required and used.

    Similar to the dictionary you described, entries are also listed in historical order, which really only makes sense to me. What I also love about it is that when there are synonyms, such as specially/especially, let/permit/allow, empty/vacant, and so forth, there are special entries that help differentiate between them.

    The pronuciation key sounds very natural to me, so I can easily pronounce new words that I've never heard spoken. There are some illustrations, which can be very useful. I like to keep a current edition because many political boundaries change over time. (Of course, it's difficult to keep up-to-the-minute current) And, of course, new words (e-mail) are appearing all the time. There is also a special key to mark terms of American origin, which is important when I'm not writing for an American reader.

    Something that might be quite useful in this thread is to give one word and have people who use various dictionaries give the exact information from their respective sources so that we could see how the dictionaries are similar and how they differ.

    What I consider the most authoritative is the Oxford unabridged dictionary, all dozen or so bound volumes! Sadly, I do not own the set, but I consult it fairly frequently at libraries.
  4. Jonegy Senior Member

    UK - English
    Not as old as yours Foxy but I bought my Collins Dictionary of the English Language in 1979 when the kids were at school and started the -

    " Dad - How do you spell ? - what does ' x ' mean ? " - phase, on the theory that what you are told, you forget - but what you work for , you remember.

    There was many a pleading " Oh Dad ! " but I never relented and they are doing the same with their kids now.

    I know there are all these 'on-line' dictionaries these days - but my old Collins - printed on Bible paper is still in almost daily use.
  5. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    I have an old edition of the Shorter OED in two volumes.
    I won't comment on that, other than to say it's probably similar
    in content and quality to Mr. Magoo's Advanced Learner's'.

    For daily once-over-not too lightly, I concur with FFB.
    When I need a more thorough definition, with words ordered according to
    frequency of current usage (as of the pre-publication date!), I use both
    hands to pick up the Random House [unabridged] Dict. of the Eng. Lang.

    I'll pick a word at random --no pun intended-- to show the
    entries from the AH and the RH.

    These citations are from hard copy editions, and may vary a bit from online versions.
    The AH is published by Houghton Mifflin Co. This copy is marked New
    College Edition on the cover, though not on the title page! Copyright 1982

    lim-er-ick (phonetic spelling which I cannot replicate) n A light humorous or nonsensical verse of
    five anapestic lines usually with the rhyme scheme aabba. [From the line,
    "Will you come up to Limerick?" (the refrain of a convivial verse in a similar form.).]

    Here is the Random House, c. 1966 entry for the same word:

    lim-er-ick (lim´ er ik...again with phonetic symbols I can't reproduce) n.
    a kind of hmorous verse of five lines, in which the first and second lines rhyme
    with the fifth line, and the shorter third line rhymes with the shorter fourth. [After Limerick: said to go back
    to social gatherings where the group sang, "Will you come up to Limerick?" after each set of verses, extemporized
    in turn by the members of the party]

    Both are good quality. RH saves me the trouble of looking up 'anapestic' and gives a little more detail about line length
    and social customs. It may cause me to hunt down 'extemporize' if I don't already know it.

    I also use the online versions of the Oxford Learner's and it's Cambridge equivalent. The latter often suffers from very
    slow performance, if compared with WR or the Oxford U.P. site. As to quality...judge for yourself:

    If I so choose, I may look for another, potentially better or worse definition in the same site:

    After studying this:

    Oxford online is much faster, and yields this:

    And the Amer. Heritage online gives us:

    For this particular word definition, I would rank the quality as follows:

    Random House unabridged print edition
    American Heritage New college edition
    print edition
    Oxford Advanced Learner's online

    For ease of use, I place the print editions first, Oxford and AH second, and Cambridge last, due to the slow server at the last one.
  6. JLanguage Senior Member

    Georgia, US
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    I also use Webster's New World College Dictionary. Mine is the second edition, copyright 1978. For newer words or words that are too obscure to be found in the dictionary, I use dictionary.com, Encarta's online dictionary or the online unabridged Oxford dictionary.
  7. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    "Anapestic" can make you intemperate--

    You looked it up, but don't remember it.

    But just bear in mind

    If it's used in a line

    It would scan very well in a limerick.

  8. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    There once was a gent named fox firebrand
    who tried to explain to a cuchu man
    how all things anapestic
    could make one dyspeptic
    and thus things have got quite out of hand.

    Will you come up to Limerick?
  9. modgirl Senior Member

    USA English, French, Russian
    There once was a forum about words

    Composed of all those we should call nerds

    One argued, "It's this way"

    Another, "I DARE say
    Your vision's askew and has gone blurred."

  10. moodywop Banned

    Southern Italy
    Italian - Italy
    My favourite reference dictionary is the New Oxford Dictionary of English. It has clear definitions, an easy-on-the-eye layout, plenty of usage notes and doesn't skimp on etymological information.

    The advanced learners' dictionaries published by OUP, Macmillan and Longman are all excellent but my vote goes to the new one published by Cambridge UP. I like the way they always tell you about BE/AE differences: sleeping policeman(UK), speed bump(no label,ie used in both Be and AE)

    I'd also like to mention two slang dictionaries: Jonathon Greene's Dictionary of Slang(covering slang from all English-speaking countries) and the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, which provides a wealth of OED-style dated citations.

    The variety of dictionaries available to learners of English today is impressive. None of the dictionaries available to learners of other languages come even close.
  11. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    For lim'ricks as wretched as these,
    "Open new threads," said Mod, "if you please."
    He then wrote yet one more
    worse than all those before,
    'Twas sufficient to make Modgirl sneeze.
  12. Jonegy Senior Member

    UK - English
    In my trusty old Collins ;

    lim+er+ick (phonetic) n. a form of comic verse consisting of five anapaestic lines of which the first, second and fifth have three metrical feet and rhyme together and the third and fourth have two metrical feet that rhyme together. [ C19: allegedly from will you come up to Limerick?, a refrain sung between nonsense verses at a party]

    No slouch huh?? ;)
  13. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU

    Agreed. My rankings were only among the 5 sources I reviewed. This is not about 'better' or 'bestest'. Collins is known for quality dictionaries. I also have the oft-mentioned Websters New World, and a few more, all of which serve some purpose or other, not always related to word lookups:). I'm hoping for commetaries/reviews like FFB's to help everyone know what's good and what's not for each publication or website.

    Please tell us more about the Collins.

  14. modgirl Senior Member

    USA English, French, Russian
    Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th edition: (my words in blue)

    lim• er• ick (phoentic pronunciation) n. {prob < Ir refrain containing the name} (probably derived from Irish refrain containing the name)

    a nonsense poem of five anapestic lines, now often bawdy, usually with the rhyme scheme aabba, the first, second, and fifth lines having three stresses, the third and fourth having two: the form was popularized by Edward Lear (Ex.: There was a young lady named Harris / Whom nothing could ever embararass / Till the bath salts one day / In the tube where she lay/ turned out to be plaster of Paris)
  15. Cracker Jack Senior Member

    I use the Cambridge dictionaries. The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary contains definitions that differentiate AE from BE. It provides information whether a word is of AE or BE origin. It also includes idiomatic expressions, slang, colloquial and even vulgar vocabulary, as well as acronyms . It covers practically everything.

    I also use Cambridge Klett Compact Español-Inglés English-Spanish and Français-Anglais English-French for the same reasons. Next month, I will purchase a Cambridge Klett German-English English-German Dictionary for the same reasons.
  16. duder Senior Member

    I have a 5-6 year old paperback copy of the Merriam-Webster dictionary. For me one of the most important features of a print dictionary is portability, and in that respect it has served me well. If in need of something more extensive with or with more notes on usage, I usually look to dictionary.com.
  17. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Here's one I use with great frequency and forgot to mention:


    Here is the Limerick reply,

    It's as good as any for a base definition, and has the advantage of being close to instantaneous. The "tree" puts things in linguistic context, and the page has links to dictionaries with more detailed definitions. Not bad for a single mouse click.
  18. rob.returns

    rob.returns Senior Member

    Philippines-English, tagalog, spanish, chavacano, tausog, visaya, ilonggo.
  19. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    You may be right Rob.returns, and you may be wrong. We need some analysis and commentary. Just calling something 'the best' doesn't give us your insights and reasoning.

    Here is the Limerick entry from your favorite:

    The audio feature is nice for a learner.
    The etymology doesn't tell me how the name of the place became associated with the verse form...that's a negative.
    The definition is very much like many others we have seen, but it has a problem: "chiefly". What on earth does that mean?
    Also, if one doesn't know much about poetic meter, it's possible to interpret this as saying the lines are two or three feet long!;)
    Just kidding.

    As to it being "updated and complete", that sounds like the publisher's blurb for their own product. Why should I care if it's updated, unless the last edition was wrong, or the meaning of the word has changed? Complete? Hardly. We have seen more comprehensive definitions from at least three other dictionaries mentioned in this thread.

    You have cited a good dictionary, and the ease of access and response time are fine. I just suggest a little more analysis.
  20. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    Merriam Webster is the first link I use, very fast. Cambridge is second and gives me more info about BE vs AE usage. Strangely it is offline tonight. Very rare.

    But type in a strange word on the MW website and you find out in a heartbeat that if you want answers to the real "egghead" words, "you gotta pay". ;)

    My favorite dictionary is the one that gives me the answer I want in the shortest possible time. I love online dictionaries because in the time I can look up a word in one book I can check several links, all of which give me slightly different answers. Unless I'm pretty sure that I know an answer, just wanting to double-check, I don't feel confident until I've checked at least three sources.

    Also, I have to change glasses. I can't read fine print with computer glasses, and I have to get about 3 inches from the monitor with my reading glasses. :)
    Yup, plus it's not complete unless you pay to use the site. Note the link at the bottom: "Premium Services Info".

    As for pronunciation, may I link the AT&T Site that allows you to type in text and listen to it pronounced by different "people"? It's not human, but often the results are spectacular.

    (Some are also terrible, but it's a work in progress…)

    I could not get it to say "Cuchu" until I put in "Kew Choo", and I had to choose the BE setting. But my nickname, "Gaer", is exactly as my friends pronounce it, with the US setting. :)

  21. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Discussion of the relative merits of various commercial products is no longer considered within the scope of these forums.
    2007 posts deleted and thread closed.
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