As wordsmiths, we create, shape, or perfect texts that are functional or artistic, straightforward or metaphoric, personal or general. As craftspeople, we must know our tools and raw materials. Traditional methods and materials are to be respected and revered, but language is too uninhibited and unlimited to be restricted to the dictionaries and thesauruses we have on our shelves.
Thus, we are introducing “Editorial Toolbox,” a feature designed to enhance editorial functions. The topic we have selected for our inaugural issue is online dictionaries and other word reference sources.
The newest dictionaries offer much more than the definitions, entomology, and pronunciation. There is a wealth of information about usage and grammar that is invaluable. Here is a sampling:
OneLook is a comprehensive dictionary site offering links to many different dictionaries including specialty dictionaries covering a variety of fields. To use OneLook, the user simply types a word into a search box. OneLook then displays the definition from two dictionaries and provides a list of general and specialty dictionaries that also define the word. To view the definition in one of the other dictionaries, the user just needs to click on the links provided in the list.
Freeality.com links to over twenty online dictionaries and numerous other reference tools. While OneLook offers the simplicity of looking up a word in multiple dictionaries with one entry, Freeality.com requires the user to enter the target word separately for each dictionary.
Each word in the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English is accompanied by practical examples. This includes varied and colorful expressions and patterns of speech found in everyday discourse, complete with their proper grammatical context. Non-native speakers will also benefit from Longman’s written pronunciation guide and audio pronunciation in British and American English for some words.
The popular Merriam-Webster Dictionary of American English offers quick access to word definitions, sample sentences using the word, and lists of synonyms and antonyms for many entries. The main menu also includes an expanded thesaurus and a medical dictionary. Additionally, Merriam-Webster offers a Learner’s Dictionary which provides simplified definitions and more extensive usage hints.
Oxford Dictionaries contains word entries with examples using the words to show all shades of meaning. Word origins and history add interesting details. The website has helpful spelling conventions and offers the user the choice of either American or British spelling. They call their British version “World English.” In their section for “Learners of English,” Oxford includes a link to the online Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.
The Chambers Dictionary website is a British English dictionary that offers a thesaurus as well as a biographical dictionary complete with references. Chamber’s also publishes a dictionary for learners of English, but it is not currently available online.
The comprehensive Bartleby.com, also known as Great Books Online, offers complete texts of dozens of reference works as well as fiction and non-fiction classics. Some of the available reference works include Roget’s Thesaurus (1922 edition), in an easy-to-use format, and John Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (1919, 10th edition). The site has a selection of works on English usage and grammar. However, since these books are nearly 100 years old, it is important to realize that current usage may have changed.
Another website offering several reference tools is Yahoo! Education. Their suite of tools includes The American Heritage Dictionary, Roget’s II: The New Thesaurus, and Columbia Encyclopedia. Each of these tools may be browsed or searched.
Readers are invited to submit suggestions or materials for future articles in Editorial Toolbox.