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Thoughts on Dictionary


Do you use dictionary? Do you own a dictionary? I own the three in the picture, and am still using them on occasions. To me, the future of the dictionary industry doesn’t look much brighter than the future of music record industry. To be sure, dictionaries will be indispensable to people learning a language. Specialized dictionaries will continue to be useful and demanded. The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, lays out the entire history of English before one’s eyes, it’s a cultural treasure. But when I look up the dictionary, I am concerned more with the actual meaning and whether a word exists. On rare occasions, I rely on the dictionary to clear up obscure points and usage about certain words. I don’t mean to trivialize lexicographers’ effort, but it seems to me that they invest a lot of hard work in things users don’t need or want.

While internet users can find for themselves much of what they want to know (for free), dictionaries’ days may be numbered. That said, even if internet has upended the publishing model, Merriam-Webster is revising its most authoritative tome for the digital age. It’s pushing into the future by making an audacious past—to revise the Unabridged International Dictionary. It’s a move to secure Merriam-Webster’s dominance in the tenuous business of commercial lexicography if not ensure its future of survival. The point is to present the fullest explication of words and hence the opportunity to say what it is that ought to be said—and the answer shifts from generation to generation, meaning, the definitions might shift. In other words, it’s lexicographers’ duty to keep up with language’s fluidity.


2 Responses

  1. Yes I own a few Dictionaries, still read them for a little light reading when I can’t write. I flip through them randomly and pick out unusual words and that usually gets the creative juices flowing or knocks out my insomnia. I still like the conventional feel of the paper between my fingers, I dog ear my pages and love the spell of the print. I do use a digital dictionary and agree that paper is going the way of the dinosaur. There is some speculation that in the future our culture will be lost, due to the digital nature of our interactions and with our affection of throwing away old TEC, future generations won’t be able to access our data because that knowledge will be lost. Love your post, I think I will go home a pull out my dictionary tonight!

  2. I don’t own a dictionary and have not since I was in college. It’s far too easy to google the definition or use one of the online dictionaries like dictionary.com. I think dictionaries, like all reference materials, are going to have to step their game up to continue being used in print. Like combo dictionary/thesaurus with the synonyms w/page #s included along with the definition. Or more images like for artwork and historical references like muskets and whalebone corsets. Now those are regulated to childhood dictionaries.

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