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Subject: Review of American Dictionaries
Question: I have read many reviews of American dictionaries by non-experts,
but do you know of any by experts? I am trying to answer the
question: are all American dictionaries equally good, or do
professional linguists consider one of them to be the best? In
other words, does it really matter which dictionary you use? (I am
an editor, and dictionaries are crucial for settling editing
wars.)

Reply: It matters a lot, I'm sorry to say.

As a professional linguist, I avoid recommending any general English dictionaries
published in the U.S.A, with the exception of the <i>American Heritage
Dictionary</i>. This is because of its etymologies, and the AHD usage handbook,
both of which are the best in the business.

For editing purposes, that usage handbook is probably your best choice, and the
dictionary that goes with it is good enough for print work. Punctuation is another
matter, of course; there simply are no standards there. But no doubt there is a house
style sheet.

The reason I avoid American dictionaries in general is because they don't provide
accurate pronunciation guides in standard IPA for dictionary entries (as the OED and
other dictionaries published elsewhere always do). Rather, they use idiosyncratic and
extremely confusing collections of spelling letters differenced by italics, breves,
macrons, and other odd marks, which nobody ever understands, or even looks at.

Merriam-Webster does publish Kenyon & Knott's 1954 <i>Pronouncing Dictionary
of American English</i>, which gives pronunciations in English IPA phonemes (but
no meanings); however, they refuse to use its transcriptions in their other books,
preferring their 18th-century traditional marks.

Dictionary editors and publishers I have talked to tell me (though not in so many
words) that they believe the American public is too ignorant to handle IPA, and
wouldn't buy their dictionaries if anything looked "strange". They have a point.

But they <b>are</b> in the business of providing correct and authoritative
information, after all, and they're falling down on it. I consider this simple
incompetence.
Reply From: John M. Lawler      click here to access email
 
Date: 01-Apr-2013
 
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Review of American Dictionaries    James L Fidelholtz     (01-Apr-2013)
  2. Re: Review of American Dictionaries    Charley Rowe     (01-Apr-2013)
  3. Re: Review of American Dictionaries    Susan D Fischer     (01-Apr-2013)

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