Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Dictionary Project, Status Update

It occurred to me recently that some of the dictionaries in my testing are out of print. For example, the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition is no longer available. So I checked the Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, which I believe is just a slightly updated version of the same dictionary, with a name change stemming from a merger. The results of that test: the same. So #15 is basically just #2, renamed. I've gone back and color coded the titles in previous blog entries to indicate which are currently in print and which are not. Blue indicates in print. Dark red indicates out of print.

I've also checked a few more dictionaries in the last couple of weeks. A couple are "on the record", meaning that I had my list with me and was therefore able to take an official count. Others are "off the record", meaning I worked from memory and don't have official tallies. In all cases, I have been satisfied that the dictionaries tested are inferior to the New Oxford American Dictionary (NOAD), which still stands as the winner of this little competition.

Among those I checked "off the record" was Webster's Third New International Dictionary Unabridged, which I just checked today. It's a pretty immense volume, and with a sticker price of $129, it's more than twice the price of the NOAD. Sadly, it missed on multiple counts: geographical entries, Goombah, ninja and ninjutsu, Scientology. Really, it was quite a disappointing showing for such an expensive offering. And it should be noted that I did not check all of the words on my list (again, working from memory).

As the table was already as wide as could fit comfortably into my blog layout, I've stripped out the out of print dictionaries from the new version of the table here:

dictionary comparison table, aardwolf, aitch, anhedonia, Baha'i, bumf, capybara, cavy, curmudgeon, em, epistemology, Fuji, full nelson, Gadzooks, goombah, habanero, Jainism, Kilimanjaro, nappy, ninja, ninjutsu, Orinoco, pariah, schadenfreude, Scientology, Sufism, zorilla, kayfabe

1. Webster's New World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. Copyright 2003
5. The Oxford American Dictionary. Copyright 1980
6. The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary, 4th Edition. Copyright 2006
7. The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition. Copyright 2001
8. The American Century Dictionary. Copyright 1995
9. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition. Copyright 2006
11. The New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition. Copyright 2005
12. Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition. Copyright 2006
13. Encarta Webster's Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition. Copyright 2004
14. The American Heritage College Dictionary, Fourth Edition. Copyright 2004
15. Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition. Copyright 2005

Special note: Dictionary #13 gives the definition I was seeking for habanero, but it lists it under habanera, which I view as an error, rather than a suitable alternative. I'll leave it to you to judge whether I am correct in this assessment.

And I've still not found kayfabe in any dictionary. So sad.


  1. I think Webster's Third New International (NID3) should actually get 21 or 22 points in your system -- you may have been too hasty in your assessment. The main body of NID3 is from 1961, but that is preceded by a supplement of more recent additions. That supplement defines 'goombah', 'ninja', and 'ninjutsu', and indeed most of the words on your list. It is missing 'full nelson', 'kilimanjaro', 'orinoco' and 'scientology'; it has 'habanero' but only as a man from Havana. It spells "baha'i" 'bahai'.

  2. Orion, thanks for the information. Surely I was too hasty in my assessment of that particular dictionary. It hasn't even made its way onto my chart, because I didn't ever get around to checking it against my list. As I mentioned, I only glanced through it, pulling my chosen words from my memory--which is not terribly reliable. Perhaps I'll get around to checking it against my list on Sunday. If so, I'll be sure to consult the supplement you mention.

    However, I think it's fair to count the use of an in-book supplement as a point against the dictionary. Much more useful would be to have those late additions integrated into the main body where they belong alphabetically. An addendum would be useful if it were sent out (or sold) as an extra volume to supplement however many thousands of pre-update copies were already in the marketplace. But just tossing it into later printings as a separate "chapter" seems a bit halfhearted.

    Anyway, if it does end up scoring a 21 or 22, it'll still be at the low end of the spectrum for the hardbacks. Hard to use that as justification for the high price. Perhaps it has other saving graces? Particularly good etymologies? Especially well-worded definitions? Fantastic notes on usage?