March 29, 2004


I’m curious to know which Canadian English dictionary most people use (at least those who need to do so). I have the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and the Gage Canadian Dictionary. I prefer the spelling conventions of the Oxford but I do admit that the ditcionary is somewhat parochial in many ways. What do others think of this dictionary? Or other Canadian dictionaries?

On the topic of dictionaries, the choice of British dictionaries is obvious, what with the unabridged OED. But what of American dictionaries? I’ve noticed that many refer to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but I’ve always found the The Amercan Heritage Dictionary of the English Language to be far more useful, especially for etymological information. Anyone have any opinions on American English dictionaries?

Posted by Mark at March 29, 2004 06:18 PM

I preferred the AHD until I became a professional editor, whereupon I began appreciating the manifold virtues of M-W and slowly got over my deep resentment at the idiocy of ordering the entries chronologically. (That’s fine for the OED, which is a Dictionary on Historical Principles, but your average user of the M-W Collegiate naturally expects the first definition to be the basic one, and they’re always getting confused by obsolete meanings.) I use the M-W at work, but they’re both great, and the new edition of the AHD is so beautiful and the etymologies are so well done (now with both IE and Semitic appendices!) that I wouldn’t be without it. Let’s face it, the more dictionaries, the better!

Posted by: language hat at March 29, 2004 06:59 PM

I use a variety of dictionaries mostly so I can cross reference the definitions. I am Canadian and have never purchased a Canadian dictionary, if fact I didn’t even know there was such a thing - though it should have been obvious as we have many different spelling conventions from American spelling.

I own two different paper dictionaries: both oxford and for the rest I use internet.

Posted by: Blinger at March 29, 2004 08:04 PM

As a working editor, I love this particular distinction, because it is definitely Canadian (ref. Gage Canadian, Oxford Canadian, the other one which I currently forget because heck I’m an editor and look things up rather than remember them in my overstuffed head but the dict. is at work and I’m at home, so)(maybe Collins, no I don’t think so), so I chortle in a mildly smug and maniacal way whenever I make my authors observe it. It’s my opinion that, basically, being an editor is about power. Take that, you “s-less” (cares-less?) varlet!!

Posted by: Susan at March 29, 2004 09:22 PM

Merriam-Webster for me. I haven’t really shopped around, so to speak. I just started using it and I ended up sticking with it. It has given me full satisfaction, and I’m talking about both the hard-copy and the on-line versions.

A few years back I read something about Random House including Herstory in its then latest version. So I steered clear of that one.

Speaking of Herstory, can anyone confirm this? Have some American dictionaries accepted Herstory as a word?

Posted by: Rethabile at March 30, 2004 07:30 PM

Hi, Mark. On the (editing) job, I use Webster’s Collegiate as the standard. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve used it for a long time and am used to it, but I really like it; in any case, I recommend it as the best American dictionary for editors. For people who just want to look up a word now and then, I’d probably recommend something else with simpler language in the definitions.

As for Canadian spellings, I use the Canadian Oxford as well. And I seem to recall being taught something in high school about the “practice”/”practise” thing you mention (as well as “centre” for a noun and “center” for a verb), but I don’t make that distinction now. Rather, one is American and the other British/Canadian.

(And boy, the food you guys make always looks fabulous!)

Posted by: alison at April 1, 2004 02:54 AM