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Dictionaries by Jennifer Bates, Rita Johnston, Hannah Noll, Regina De Guerra, and Gillian Speace. What is a Dictionary?. OED Definition:

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what is a dictionary
What is a Dictionary?

OED Definition:

  • a. A book dealing with the individual words of a language (or certain specified classes of them), so as to set forth their orthography, pronunciation, signification, and use, their synonyms, derivation, and history, or at least some of these facts: for convenience of reference, the words are arranged in some stated order, now, in most languages, alphabetical; and in larger dictionaries the information given is illustrated by quotations from literature; a word-book, vocabulary, or lexicon. Full link
what is a dictionary1
What is a Dictionary?

From Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged


organization of a dictionary
Organization of a Dictionary
  • Alphabetically
  • By root origin (In Arabic, some Sanskrit)
  • Pronunciation, shape, letter stroke (In ideographic writing systems)
some types of dictionaries
Some Types of Dictionaries
  • Unabridged
  • Abridged
  • Pocket
  • Multiple Language
  • Specialized or Technical Dictionaries
  • Online Dictionaries
  • Gaming Dictionaries
  • Colloquial and Slang Dictionaries
  • Childrens’ Dictionaries
  • Visual Dictionaries
  • Glossaries
  • Thesaurus
evaluation criteria
Evaluation Criteria
  • Format

- CD-Rom, Online, or Book?

  • Scope
  • Relation to Similar Works
  • Authority

- Reputable publisher? Good reviews?

  • Treatment

- Are definitions precise and accurate? Any bias?

  • Currency of Definitions
  • Arrangement
  • Special Features

- Synonyms/Antonyms

- Etymology

the oed what makes it unique
The OED:What Makes it Unique
  • It was the first successful attempt to compile a comprehensive dictionary of English words
  • James Murray, the editor, advertised to the public to help collect the earliest and best quotations for EACH WORD in use in English. The project began in 1857 and was not completed until 1928.
  • First edition named New English Dictionary on Historical Principles
  • An unabridged dictionary, but also more:

- Has etymology of each word

- Some people use it as a quotation dictionary b/c of its quotes

later editions
Later Editions
  • As soon as the first OED was completed, the compilers began updating it.
  • 1992 – first CD-Rom version
  • Second Edition –completed 1989
  • Third Edition – is being completely revised for the first time. It will not be completed before 2018, and it may be only in online form, depending on demand, according to Oxford.
  • Current editions are in print and online, but online updated more frequently.
  • Scope: All English words in current use in the general population.
  • Similar to other unabridged dictionaries, but with superior etymology and quotations. In a class by itself.
  • Authority: The first and the BEST! Published by Oxford.
  • Treatment: Heavy on determining meaning through use
  • Technological definitions not current: computer
  • Arrangement: Alphabetical (print), searchable (online)
webster s third new international dictionary of the english language what makes it unique
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language:What Makes It Unique?
  • Considered the most prestigious unabridged dictionary published in N. America.
  • Considered “too permissive” by its critics when first published – more descriptive than prescriptive.
  • Has an online counterpart.
  • Entries in easily readable style.
  • Print and online version. Web version contains 1996 update not in print version.
  • Scope: All English words in current use in the general population.
  • Similar to other unabridged dictionaries,
  • Authority: Widely considered the best in its class. Respected publisher.
  • Treatment: easily readable, concise definitions for an unabridged. More accepting of ‘improper’ English, descriptive not prescriptive.
  • Technological definitions not current: computer
  • Arrangement: Alphabetical (print), searchable (online)
a few points about unabridged dictionaries
A Few Points about Unabridged Dictionaries
  • They take a long time to compile, so are not updated often, so are not kept up to date.
  • Computers and the web are making it easier for unabridged dicts. to stay current.
  • However, as my example indicated, they are still way behind with many definitions.
online dictionaries

The Good,

the Bad,

and the


corpus, gen. corporis [TA], pl. corpora ( ) The plural of this word is corpora, not corpi. 1. SYN: body (1). 2. Any body or mass. 3. The main part of an organ or other anatomic structure, as distinguished from the head or tail. SEE ALSO: body, diaphysis, soma. [L. body]corpus adiposum [TA]. SYN: fat-pad.corpus adiposum buccae [TA]. SYN: buccal fat-pad.
acronyms abbreviations etc
Acronyms, Abbreviations, etc.


Corps of Reserve Priests United for Service

Thematically organized, not alphabetical
  • No definitions given
  • An alphabetical index is included

Bragonier, Reginald.What’s What: A Visual Glossary of the Physical World. Maplewood, N.J. : Hammond, c1981.

A dual language example
  • Facts on File makes versions in several languages
  • Has thematic as well as alphabetical indices

Corbeil, Jean Claude. The Facts on File English/Spanish visual dictionary : look up the word from the picture, find the picture from the word. New York : Facts on File, c1992.

Another format
  • The New Oxford Picture Dictionary comes in several languages and just English
  • “For all ages”

Parnwell, E. C. The new Oxford picture dictionary,English/ Navajo ed. New York : Oxford University Press, 1989.

online visual dictionaries
Online Visual Dictionaries
  • http://www.infovisual.info/
    • Format – hard to search, easy to browse
    • Scope – only biology, anatomy, music, transport
    • Authority – Bernard Déry (?)
    • Features – gives short written descriptions, too
  • http://www.allaboutspace.com/science/dictionary/
    • Format – cannot search, only browse
    • Scope – 17 science categories
    • Authority – by Enchanted Learning (teacher resource)
    • Features – long descriptions, labeled diagrams, links
For young children
  • No definitions, but some examples
  • To be read as well as used for reference

Seuss, Dr. The Cat in the Hat Beginner Book Dictionary.

For “early elementary”
  • Simple definitions with example sentences
  • Easy to understand pronunciation guide

Levey, Judith S. Scholastic first dictionary. New York : Scholastic Reference, c1998.

For “8 to 11 year olds”
  • More advanced pronunciation key, parts of speech
  • More advanced words, and more meanings of each word

Webster's new world children's dictionary. Cleveland : Webster's New World, c1991.

For “5th through 8th graders”
  • Even more words, and more meanings
  • Includes more features, such as slang terms, phrases, and geographical terms

Webster's new world dictionary for young adults.New York : Prentice Hall, c1992.

online children s dictionaries
Online Children’s Dictionaries
  • http://www.wordcentral.com/
    • Format – poorly designed interface
    • Audience – about middle school level ?
    • Authority – Merriam-Webster’s Student Dictionary
    • Features – pronunciation guide at the bottom of the page
  • http://www.factmonster.com/
    • Format – better interface and display
    • Audience – about middle school level ?
    • Authority – Random House Unabridged Dictionary
    • Features – links to encyclopedia entry from The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia
The Oxford Spanish Dictionary
  • Broad coverage, many meanings and phrases
  • Complex entry structure can be confusing

The Oxford Spanish dictionary : Spanish-English/English-Spanish. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1994.

Often include extra sections
  • Verb charts
  • Letter samples, usage guides, country information

Collins diccionario inglés = Collins Spanish dictionary. 6th ed. Barcelona : Grijalbo ; New York : Collins, c2000.

A slang dictionary
  • Beware this is specific to Spain

Carbonell Basset, Delfín.An English and Spanish dictionary of slang and unconventional language = Diccionario castellano e inglés de argot y lenguaje informal.1. ed. Barcelona : Ediciones del Serbal, 1997.

A phrase dictionary
  • Again, particular to Spain

Carbonell Basset, Delfín.Diccionario fraseológico : inglés-castellano, castellano-inglés : frases, expresiones, modismos, dichos, locuciones, idiotismos, refranes, etc. = A phraseological dictionary : English-Spanish, Spanish-English : phrases, expressions, locutions, clichés, idioms, sayings, saws, proverbs, etc.Barcelona : Ediciones del Serbal, c1995.

online language dictionaries
Online Language Dictionaries
  • http://education.yahoo.com/reference/dict_en_es/
    • Format – can search and browse in both languages
    • Authority – The American Heritage Spanish Dictionary
    • Features – finds related words and verb forms; audio files
  • http://www.logos.it/pls/dictionary/new_dictionary.home_project?pjCode=10&lang=en&u_code=4395
    • Format – browse children’s dictionary or search adults’
    • Authority – collaboratively generated
    • Features – universal verb conjugator; some audio files

“a very specialized dictionary that deals

only with word synonyms and antonyms”

(Bopp and Smith)

typical entry
Typical Entry
  • Word
  • Part of Speech
  • Definition
  • Synonyms
  • Antonyms
  • Slang, Informal, Idiom, Archaic
Easy to use

Clear distinctions between entries

Gives informal and colloquial synonyms

Has a “see also” section for most entries

exemplary online source
Exemplary Online Source



  • Easy-to-read design layout
  • Concise, one-word definitions
  • Direct links to each synonym and antonym listed
  • Words from Roget’s New Millenium Thesaurus
Example sentences for each main entry and for each synonym

Also includes an indexes of irregular verbs and of idiomatic use of prepositions

Guide to the Use of Familiar Quotations tells how the book is organized: chrono-logically by birth date of author

Index of Authors lists authors’ birth and death dates and page numbers

Index lists keywords alphabetically; tells page number and which entry on the page

online sources
Online Sources


  • http://yourdictionary.com/
  • Links to Bartlett’s (through Bartleby) and The Quotations Page
online sources1
Online Sources
  • Searching for “To be or not to be” in several online quotation databases yielded no results related to Shakespeare or Hamlet
  • Searching for “I wandered lonely as a cloud” and Wordsworth yielded no results
quotation books by subject
Quotation Books by Subject
  • Much narrower scope
  • Alphabetized by subject—It is nearly impossible to find a specific quote, even if you know who said it
  • The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations
  • A Book in Hand is Worth Two in the Library