Back when I was paid to really care about spelling, I made a crude little UK-US spelling equivalency dictionary. Typeset it in LaTeX, too:
I found the source files last night (including the entire database for the long out-of-print source book, in its own odd little text format) and I’m amazed how little of it I still understand. This is a shame, as I’m about to embark on another little typesetting project of my own …
As you may have heard, the historic dictionary firm of Chambers in
Edinburgh is threatened with closure by the parent company Hachette
They intend moving the English dictionaries to London and the
bilingual Harrap titles to Paris, involving not just the loss of 27
jobs in Edinburgh but the end of a publishing tradition going back
nearly two centuries. Chambers is a Scottish and British institution
dear to the hearts of word-lovers.
Yes, the advent of free resources on the internet has changed the
world of reference publishing, but it is far from clear whether all
options for the future of Chambers Harrap have been properly
considered in what appears to be a very drastic and possibly even
underhand move by Hachette. I feel strongly we shouldn’t just accept
this as inevitable. Hachette should be forced at the very least to
undertake a properly full and open review of the situation first, in
due consultation with the NUJ. If you wish to join with others in
urging them to think again, you may like to sign the online petition
at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/chambers-in-edinburgh/. It only
takes a few seconds.
Christmas came early. With money from Carlyle, I bought a reproduction of Knight’s American Mechanical Dictionary, a three-tome work from the 1870s which catalogued mechanisms, devices and machinery known at the time. It’s the ultimate nerd read.
I was pleased to see that Apple had included a comprehensive dictionary with OS X 10.4. The Oxford American is a decent enough reference tome, and the computer implementation isn’t bad at all.
The typography’s fairly clean, if rather heavy on the whitespace. Cross references are active; if one clicks on the small-caps word whitlow, you’ll go to its definition (if you have to; it’s kinda nasty). For some reason, the Dashboard version of the dictionary doesn’t have active xrefs.
Searching isn’t as good as it could be. As with most electronic products, it assumes you already know how to spell the word. The incremental search does allow that, as long as you have the first few letters right, the list of possible choices is quite small. Like all electronic dictionaries that I’ve seen, it’s not possible to browse the text in that spectacularly non-linear way that makes a real paper dictionary fun.
It does seem to have a good few Canadian terms, but a true Canadian dictionary should be shipped with Canadian Tiger. Correct spelling isn’t just optional. It also only labels British and Canadian spellings as ‘British’.
So, in summary, pretty good, but far from perfect.
WordReference used to have all the Collins dictionaries available online, for free browsing. I was the main dictionary computing guy at Collins when this deal was made, and it was pretty cool to have a good, non-US English dictionary on the web.
I gues the money has run out, as the Collins data has disappeared, and the English dictionary is derived from WordNet. While I think that WordNet‘s a worthy project, it doesn’t quite compare to the Collins English Dictionary.
While I was back in Scotland, I met up with many of my old colleagues from Collins Dictionaries. We had a very pleasant evening with Ian Brookes, who is now the editor-in-chief of the Chambers dictionary.
Chambers is an unusual dictionary, in that it has a sprinkling of amusing definitions. One of these is mullet, defined as a hairstyle that is short at the front, long at the back, and ridiculous all round. There are also rare definitions, such as:
paneityn the state of being bread
After reading that, I knew I had to buy the latest edition. Does this make me a word nerd?
Chambers publish a booklet on their dictionary, which is available online: Words, Wit and Wisdom (or local copy, since it’s fallen off their site: wit_wisdom).