The American heritage dictionary

Review :

Words fail on how nice a dictionary this is. With the exception of one nit I cover at the end of this review (that's much more a personal affectation than a shortcoming of the book itself) this a near-perfect dictionary.

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT: The reader, writer, or book lover in your life will flip their wig over this dictionary. For anyone looking for an upgrade from the paperback Webster's Compact they've been totiung around, this is a nice, affordable step up.

A NOTE BEFORE WE BEGIN: Some have complained of the pages' paper weight as feeling "cheap." I don't agree. While the stock itself is as thin as one might expect in a super-large reference book, the show-through is non-existent where it counts, the text. The shapes of illustrations on the next page show through somewhat, but hardly enough to bother me. The paper is of a higher grade than my loved-to-death Webster's Ninth New Collegiate and many other dictionaries I've seen.

COMPLETENESS: Dictionaries distinguish themselves by how many senses of a word they provide. Senses are what help okay writers become better writers by not only defining the word, but showing you ways in which others may use or understand the word. Does it have ALL the words I don't know. But it defined "bag wig" which I ran across in an old public-domain text of Nicholas Nickleby. Many, many Usage Notes help the user understand the evolution of a given word, as well as outlining commonly confused words. Our Living Language Notes are super helpful as well.

CARRYABLENESS: This is a better desk reference than a take-it-with-you volume. While it's about the height and width of the largest of college text book, at 2.5" thick (63mm), this is better suited for your desk or side table.

WORDHOLEFOLLOWABLENESS: For me, the mark of a good dictionary is how likely you are to follow "See also" references. I never fail to read a couple of extras.

READABILITY: Page layout is excellent, with the word itself rendered in a bold dark blue sans serifed type and the definitions done in a super-readable serifed face. Cloth-bound with nice end papers, and well-designed signatures let this puppy open and lie flat. Thumb indexes typically strike right in the middle of the set of pages, so E-F for example puts you halfway between "e" (the first definition in E) and "fynbos" at the conclusion of F.


So I recently picked up a copy of "Fowler's English Usage," a tremendously fun, understandably opinionated reference on the usage of words. As one of the standard bearers of Received Pronunciation ("BBC English" or "the standard accent of English as spoken in the south of England", Fowler's uses the International Phonetic Alphabet or IPA. It's helpful as it shows and allows the reader to vocalize words especially ones unfamilar.

The use of the famously unreadable alphabet is, I think, a rite of passage for word lovers everywhere. Sort of like when you start to "get" modern jazz.

The AHD doesn't use IPA, instead showing a more simplified AHD/English pronunciation system:

So where IPA says
dictionary = dk()n()ri

AHD/enPR shows
dictionary = dk'sh-nr-

Like I said, a nit so irritatingly small that it hardly merits mention. But for the two dozen or so of you in the world who get off on the puzzling nature of IPA notation, know that AHD doesn't offer it.

Finally, note that I didn't actually read the whole thing; just the Front Matter.

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