Sunday, April 15, 2012


No, this post isn't a segue. I'm still working on the third of the Three Blogtastic Days posts. But I have recently gotten my hands on a paperback dictionary - The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, New Edition, copyright 2004 - to replace the several that I've misplaced, because I don't trust online dictionaries any more than I trust online encyclopedias. And I was reminded of some fun facts about dictionaries - specifically, things missing from dictionaries.

"Cilantro," for example. It's a common word, an herb derived from the leaves of the coriander plant, distinct in taste from the seeds that are commonly referred to as "coriander." At least in the U.S. In England, where running shoes are known as "trainers" and popsicles as "iced lollies," the word is unknown - and therefore unworthy of addition into the Oxford English Dictionary, or any dictionary derived from it. "... anyone who claims not to know that 'cilantro' is merely a recent american name for the native european herb 'coriander' (p.511) is not fit, in my humble opinion, to act as a referee for this excellent book!" says one commentor on the page for the Shorter OED, demonstrating that they really should look up the definition of the word "dictionary" sometime.

Another word of interest is "segue." It's pronounced SEG-way, and refers to a transitional mechanism in speech or music. I think. The problem is, many dictionaries - including the one in front of me - do not contain the word "segue." Why? I have no idea. The word is defined in various places online, including Wikipedia (where the definitions restrict its use to music and journalism), (which will attempt to sell you all manner of stand-up scooters), Merriam-Webster online (loaded with pop-up ads, and apparently allowing the term only for music), and the online dictionary (powered by Farlex, a name synonymous with...something?)

Most of those sites I do not trust. But most paper dictionaries are crap, too; the name "Webster's" passed into public domain long ago, and now anyone can claim to have created a Webster's dictionary. Really, anyone can publish any dictionary at all, with no more authority than the most recent person who edited the last Wikipedia article you read. But eventually the more respected printed dictionaries, for all their flaws and omissions, will go the way of the Encyclopedia Britannica. After that, you'd better hope that the definition you've found online is accurate. Because you won't have anything to check it against.


Pope George Ringo said...

I have an old dictionary from the nineteen thirties....sure some words won't be in there, but of course, the majority of words are infinite and do not go out of style.
I have used it often over the years.

tommy said...

hmmm interesting, but we've come a long/different way from the grunts/hoots & hollars of our ancestors? or have we?