by Heritage, American
Publisher:Houghton Mifflin Co
The latest edition of the American Heritage Dictionary is out, and that's hot news--not just for the resolute followers of lexicographical minutiae, but for the general reading and writing public as well. Why? Because the American Heritage is a long-standing favorite family dictionary (never underestimate the value of pictures) and one of the prime dictionary references for magazines, newspapers, and dot.com content providers. For scads of writers and editors across the U.S., it sets the standard on matters of style and lexicographical authority.
So this new edition is exciting and noteworthy, but how good is it? In its favor, the fourth edition is as current a dictionary as you can get. It's six years fresher than the 1994 version, with 10,000 words and definitions you won't find in the still venerable but now slightly dated third edition. For example, unlike its predecessor (and also unlike the 1996 Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary), this fourth edition covers dot-com, e-commerce, and soccer mom, Ebonics, Viagra, and a surf definition for cruising television channels and the Internet.
Its panel of special consultants includes authorities on anthropology, architecture, cinema, and law, plus military science, music, religion, and sports, and that is reflected in an impressively comprehensive coverage of the arts, culture, and technology. Sadly, however, there are no medical consultants on the panel, and that loss is felt in some substandard medical definitions. Other flaws: there's a greater than usual tendency to define a word with a form of the same word--for example, fuzzy, whose first two definitions are "1. covered with fuzz." and "2. of or resembling fuzz." And some definitions seem needlessly wordy, such as the entry for furious, which is "full of or characterized by extreme anger; raging." Compare that with the more succinct Oxford Encyclopedic entry: "1. extremely angry. 2. full of fury."
On the other hand, there are valuable entries throughout the dictionary supplying additional information on synonyms, usage, or word history, and these extras, such as the history of diatribe and the usage notes on discomfit, are interesting. The layout is easy on the eyes, with dark blue/green bold type setting the words apart from their definitions, and 4,000 color photographs, maps, and illustrations that are both useful and delightful. On one page, the margin provides color depictions of Francis Bacon, bacterium, and a Bactrian camel. Theodore Roosevelt and a rooster share another margin, while a third page offers Isak Dinesen, a dingo, and dinoflagellate. It is a fascinating book to peruse, and a compellingly scholarly addition to the American Heritage Dictionary line. --Stephanie Gold
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