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I.S.--Dictionaries


Purposes of Dictionaries:

Meanings
Spellings
Usage of words
Definitions of words
Word origins (etymology)
Pronunciations
Rhyming
Quotations
Grammar and part of speech
Prescriptive & descriptive

You may only be familiar with the use of dictionaries to find the meanings of words, but there are many many uses of dictionaries. Take another look at the list above. Notice the last item: prescriptive and descriptive. This is a major split in types of dictionaries with which you should be familiar.

Webster's 2nd unabridged dictionary, for instance, is prescriptive. It tells you whether words are proper to use and in what context. For instance, it tells you not to use the word "ain't" in formal company; it is unacceptable.

Webster's 3rd unabridged, however, does NOT tell you how to use words. It simply describes what they mean if you happen to use them.


Sizes of dictionaries

  • Unabridged dictionaries.
  • Standard
  • Desk and Collegiate
  • Pocket

Some people estimate that there are as many as 55 million words in the entire English language. That does not mean, however, that an unabridged dictionary contains that many words. Most unabridged dictionaries contain around 2 million of the most common words.

Many of the words in the English language are specialized. For instance, they are used just by engineers, or doctors, or lawyers, or electronics technicians. The only way to access all these words and their meanings is to get hold of a specialized dictionary.

Smaller than the unabridged dictionary, which you usually find on a dictionary stand and is too large to carry, is the standard dictionary. It is a large bound volume and just barely small enough to carry with you.

The desk and collegiate size dictionaries are smaller yet and meant to be easily carried.

The pocket dictionary is usually paperback and small, but may contain as many words as the desk and collegiate size dictionaries.


Types of Dictionaries

CATEGORY TITLES
Pictures dictionaries (for language or children) Scott Foresman Beginning Dictionary
The Sesame Street Dictionary
Historical Oxford English Dictionary (OED)
Dictionary of American English on Historical principles
A dictionary of Americanisms on historical principles
Dictionary of American Regional English
Subject dictionaries Black's law dictionary
Dorland's illustrated medical dictionary
Prentice-Hall standard glossary of computer terminology
Dictionary of information technology
McGraw-Hill dictionary of scientific and technical terms.
Synonyms and antonyms Roget's international thesaurus
Random House thesaurus
Webster's new dictionary of synonyms.
Slang New dictionary of American slang
A dictionary of slang and unconventional English.
Usage American usage and style: the consensus
Dictionary of modern English usage.
New words The Barnhart dictionary of new English since 1963
9000 words: A supplement to Webster's third new international dictionary.
Sign language A dictionary of American Sign Language on linguistic principles
Unabridged dictionaries Webster's new international dictionary of the English language, 2d ed.
Webster's third new international dictionary
Random House dictionary of the English language.
Standard dictionaries American Heritage dictionary of the English language
Funk and Wagnalls standard college dictionary
Random House college dictionary
Webster's ninth new collegiate dictionary
Webster's new world dictionary of the American language.

There are also


Class Exercise

1. Locate the following dictionaries and discuss how you would use them, and any interesting points about them:

HA 202 .S82 1992 Statistical abstract of the United States
GR 35 .J62 1961 Dictionary of mythology, folklore, and symbols
PC 4827 .G35 1985 Diccionario del Espanol Chicano
R 121 D73 Dorland's Medical Dictionary
HG 151 .R66 Dictionary of Banking
D 424 .C65 Columbia Dictionary of European Political History since 1914
QE 862 .D5 G65 Complete Dinosaur Dictionary
HC 29 .R66 Corporate Eponymy
QE 5 .C453 Chambers Earth Sciences Dictionary
CS 2505 .R39 Dictionary of English Surnames
PE 1691 .H65 Faber Dictionary of Euphemisms
QB 14 .R66 Dictionary of Astronomical Names
PN 1993.45 .K66 Complete Film Dictionary


Biographical dictionaries and directories

      current and retrospective;
      general and field/discipline specific.

There are dictionaries and dictionary-like directories which focus of biographical information. Some are CURRENT, meaning they deal with living people. Some are RETROSPECTIVE, meaning that they cover only dead people. Some are very general, some quite specialized.

(Class Exercises cont'd)

2. Look up the following dictionaries and tell whether they are current or retrospective or both:

International dictionary of Black composers
American national biography
The vice presidents : a biographical dictionary
Notable women in mathematics : a biographical dictionary
American women in science
Dictionary of world biography
Notable Latino Americans : a biographical dictionary
Larousse dictionary of women
Texas biographical dictionary
The Cambridge dictionary of American biography
World Almanac Biographical Dictionary
Dictionary of National Biography
Dictionary of American Biography
Dictionary of Scientific Biography , Q 141 D5


Biographical sources

(Class exercises cont'd.)

3. Not all biographical sources are dictionaries. Take a look at the following titles and list how they differ from each other--who they cover, how they cover them, in what depth, do they have photographs, other particulars--especially whether they cover only the dead, only the living, or both:

Who's Who , DA 28 W6
Who Was Who in America , E 176 W64
The International Dictionary of Women's Biography , CT 3202 I57
American Men and Women of Science , Q 141 A474
Current Biography Yearbook , CT 100 C8
Trail Drivers of Texas , F 596 T69
Encyclopedia of Western Gun-Fighters , F 596 O65
Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology , Q 141 A74
The Great Chiefs , E 78 W5 T55
McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Biography , CT 103 M27
Webster's American Biographies, CT 213 W43
World Authors , PN 451 W3
Twentieth Century Authors , PN 451 K84
American Authors , PS 21 K8
British Authors before 1800 , PR 105 K9
Who Was When? , CT 103 D4
They Went That-A-Way-- , CT 105 F63
Doctors: The Biography of Medicine , R 134 N85
Lifelines, CT 104 W45
Who Did What,103 W47


Assignment

(Class exercises cont'd.)

4. Look up each of these dictionaries in the OPAC and write down their call numbers. Locate each of them on the shelf, pull them out, and look at them. Choose a dictionary from two of the categories below. Try to choose dictionaries which will be the most useful to you in your course of studies or the research paper on which you are working. You are not restricted to these dictionaries. If you see something even better on the shelf, use it. On an email to me, type out a full MLA citation for both dictionaries:

Pictures dictionaries (for language or children)-

A CHILD'S PICTURE DICTIONARY: ENGLISH/SPANISH

Historical-

OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY (OED),
THE MANY NAMES OF COUNTRY PEOPLE: AN HISTORICAL DICTIONARY...
CAUGHT IN THE WEB

Subject dictionaries-

BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY,
DORLAND'S ILLUSTRATED MEDICAL DICTIONARY,
DICTIONARY OF COMPUTER TERMS,
DICTIONARY OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY,
MCGRAW-HILL DICTIONARY OF SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL TERMS.

Synonyms and antonyms-

ROGET'S INTERNATIONAL THESAURUS,
LEGAL THESAURUS,
WEBSTER'S COLLEGIATE THESAURUS.

Slang-

NEW DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN SLANG,
A DICTIONARY OF SLANG AND UNCONVENTIONAL ENGLISH..
DICTIONARY OF SLANG AND ALPHABETICAL HISTORY...

Usage-

DICTIONARY OF MODERN ENGLISH USAGE.
DICTIONARY OF BIAS-FREE USAGE
WEBSTER'S DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH USAGE
MODERN BUSINESS LANGUAGE AND USAGE

New words-

THE BARNHART DICTIONARY OF NEW ENGLISH SINCE 1963

Sign language-

DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE

Unabridged dictionaries-

WEBSTER'S NEW INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, 2D ED.,
WEBSTER'S THIRD NEW INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY,
RANDOM HOUSE DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.

Standard dictionaries-

AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE,
RANDOM HOUSE COLLEGE DICTIONARY,
WEBSTER'S NINTH NEW COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY,
WEBSTER'S NEW WORLD DICTIONARY OF THE AMERICAN LANGUAGE.

5. Locate the following biographical titles in the online PAC library catalog. Write down the call number, then find them on the shelf. Write down under each their call number, whether they are current or retrospective, and whether they are general or discipline specific. Also, note any other interesting features, like whether they have pictures of the people, whether they list their works, etc. Be able to explain the purpose of each item.

World Almanac Biographical Dictionary

Dictionary of National Biography

Dictionary of American Biography

6. Locate the following sources in the library and look them over. Choose two which are particularly useful for you and print a full MLA style citation for each on the back of this page.

Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Q 141 D5
Who's Who, DA 28 W6
Who Was Who in America, E 176 W64
The International Dictionary of Women's Biography, CT 3202 I57
American Men and Women of Science, Q 141 A474
Current Biography Yearbook, CT 100 C8
Trail Drivers of Texas, F 596 T69
Encyclopedia of Western Gun-Fighters, F 596 O65
Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, Q 141 A74
The Great Chiefs, E 78 W5 T55
McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Biography, CT 103 M27
Webster's American Biographies, CT 213 W43
World Authors, PN 451 W3
Twentieth Century Authors, PN 451 K84
American Authors, PS 21 K8
British Authors before 1800, PR 105 K9
Who Was When?, CT 103 D4
They Went That-A-Way--, CT 105 F63
Doctors: The Biography of Medicine, R 134 N85
Lifelines, CT 104 W45
Who Did What, CT 103 W47


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Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

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