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The New Penguin English Dictionary

ISBN 0140293108 / 9780140293104 / 0-14-029310-8

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Book summary

Lexicographers have been arguing for centuries--since Dr Johnson produced his authoritative Dictionary of the English Language in 1755--about whether dictionaries should be arbiters of correctness or describers of living language. Refreshingly forward-looking and impressively comprehensive, The Penguin English Dictionary inclines to the latter.

In it you'll find definitions of "dot com company" as well as "dot com fever". Also there amongst the burgeoning computer and Internet vocabulary and its spin-off metaphors are "people carrier," "ring-fence" and "zero tolerance". But that is not to say this large, single-volume dictionary is not also strong and clear on standard English and English of earlier periods as well as on scientific and specialist terms--all with scholarly derivations. "Fugacious" ("lasting a short time, fleeting"--from Latin fugac--fugac from fuger to flee) is there along with "ollgoclase" ("a common feldspar mineral of the plagioclase series found in many rocks eg granite"--from German Oligoklas, from Greek OLIGO + klasis breaking").

Two features distinguish this attractive dictionary. First, like larger multi-volume rivals, it quotes from writers past and present--and people in the news today--to illustrate established, changing and modern language usage. Thus Shakespeare and John Locke rub shoulders with Eric Cantona and Germaine Greer. Second, the dictionary is liberally supplied with inset usage notes, which explain the complexities of, for example, shall and will, supplement and complement, effect and affect. There are also editorial notes and occasional very entertaining word histories. It makes for engrossing browsing. The (signed) editorial notes give supplementary information and have been written by a team of experts. Thus you get a useful elucidatory extra paragraph about film noir by film writer David Thomson, a comment about equality by Helena Kennedy QC and, by BBC economics correspondent Evan Davis, a piece about monetarism.

The New Penguin English Dictionary is being marketed as a dictionary "with attitude" and it's certainly that--firmly in the Johnsonian tradition, although the range of opinions makes it a much more multi-faceted dictionary than anything we've seen before. --Susan Elkin [via]