The Dictionary of Record

A recent post at Heaneyland!, whose last few offerings had me gasping in great honks of laughter for more than a minute, reminds me that I’d like to make a qualified recommendation of the electronic version of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, aka the default dictionary of U.S. book publishing.

Recommended because it’s the default dictionary, and if you do anything related to book editing or production you should be in the habit of looking stuff up in it, and if you must look stuff up, it’s a lot faster to do so right on your computer than to have to get up from your desk, drag down the dead-tree version of what’s probably the previous edition of the dictionary, and thumb to the appropriate page. It’s especially handy to have the electronic version if you’re the sort of person who, after finding an adequate but not fully satisfying entry for a word in the Collegiate, wishes to look it up in the Third International as well, and perhaps in the thesaurus. The Collegiate and thesaurus can be bought on a single disk. I bought the International separately, from (though even at full price, it’s far cheaper than the print edition), but once installed (you do not need to keep the CD-ROM in your computer), they’re all accessible from the same interface. It’s just a matter of toggling to the dictionary you wish to search.

Qualified because the aforementioned joint interface of the electronic version, at least on the Mac, sucks even harder than the web version Mr. Heaney found such amusement in today. For example, why must I make a selection first—why can’t I search all three dictionaries at once and see what comes up? And why can’t I move my cursor into the search field using the tab key? Stupid old thing. Still, I use it almost every day, even when I’m not doing any editorial work, whereas I pull out the dead-tree dictionary only perhaps twice a year. (Similarly, while I’m interested in and own the New Oxford American Dictionary, I never actually use it because that would require pulling it from the shelf. Which might cause a bookalanche. And I’m not in the mood to appear on the cover of the Post. The book came with a CD, but it’s for Windows only.)

Eagerly awaiting the electronic version of the Chicago Manual, which even if it’s godawful will easily be worth five times as much to me as the printed book . . .

2 thoughts on “The Dictionary of Record

  1. If you’re using a Mac and using Tiger, the dictionary in the dictionary widget IS The New Oxford American Dictionary …

    The CD in the 1st edition is just for PCs; the CD in the 2nd edition is a version you can put on your cell phone (if you have a Treo, BlackBerry, or smartphone).

  2. Ah, you know, I’ve never used any widgets besides the calculator, and I keep that only because Tiger broke my ability to do math directly in Quicksilver and I’ve yet to troubleshoot it. But I’ll make an effort to play with your dictionary.

    . . . pause . . .

    Well, who knew? And it works when you’re offline. For some reason I had assumed the widget was just a desktop interface to This is much more useful.

    Surprisingly often when I need a dictionary, I’m not connected to the Interweb. For example, I have a bad tendency to take work with me while traveling. Planes, apartments in Paris, country houses in Auvergne–few of these seem to have decent open wifi connections. I don’t know why. So having reference books on my hard drive is essential.

    Thanks for the tip! I wonder what other enormous reference works are hiding in my laptop . . . Larousse Gastronomique, perhaps? What I could really use is the Gourmet Cookbook. Hmm.

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