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1. Introduction 2. Types of dictionaries and their content 3. Kinds of dictionaries:
3.1.. general dictionaries; 3.2.. special dictionaries:
3.2...1...bilingual dictionaries; 3.2...2...explanatory dictionaries; 3.2...3...etymological dictionaries; 3.2...4...dictionaries of synonyms; 3.2...5...phraseological dictionaries; 3.2...6...pronouncing dictionaries; 3.2...7...spelling dictionaries
4. How to use a dictionary. Dictionaries entries. 5. The encyclopedic material of some American dictionaries. 6. Conclusions 7. The list of literature.
Dictionaries are tools, and they are much more complicated,
and capable of many more uses then we suspect. All of us know
students need encouragement and guidance in the use of
dictionaries. Some students are able to use their dictionaries
with anything like efficiency. Certainly there must be very few
of those who come up through the grades these days who are not
familiar with the details of looking up words in dictionaries, but
it is one thing to find a word in a dictionary and quite another to
understand fully information there given about it. Linguists and
lexicographers have a matter with dictionaries. Every linguist
with an interest in the quantitative properties of language will on
some occasion be faced with some form of the ultimate question
in the word numbers game: ”How many words did Shakespeare
use?”, “How many words are there in the English language?”
“How many words should a dictionary have?” The first
question, at least, has a definite although not simple answer:
Shakespeare’s complete works consist of a total of 884647
words of text containing a grand total of 29066 different words
including proper names. But on the question ”How many words
should a dictionary have” it is very difficult to answer. Every
dictionary has a different number of words. On the contrary
lexicographers have a task to record the meanings of words, the
task of arranging these meanings in the orderthey think will be
of most help to those who use their work. Different editors solve
this problem of arrangement in different ways. In the prefatory
part of any dictionary you will find some indication of the plan
that has been followed in arranging the meanings. In the
Werriam-Webster dictionaries the meanings are arranged as far
as possible, in the order in wich they arose. In those dictionaries,
the first meanings given are the earliest a word is known to
have had, and the more modern meanings come later. The
arrangement of meanings is difficult, that’s why the only safe
course is to examine the forematter of the dictionary to see what
plan has been followed.
Dictionary is a book that contains a selected list of words
arranged in alphabetical order. It explains their meanings and
gives information about them. In a dictionary a person can look
up a word quickly, discover what it means and learn how it is
Dictionaries give the meanings of many kinds of words. Most
modern dictionaries describe the facts of a language as educated
speakers and writers use it. They are called descriptive
dictionaries because a dictionary editor does not change the
facts of a language. Many older dictionaries tried to prescribe
rules, some of wich did not agree with the way people
commonly talked or wrote. These books are called prescriptive
dictionaries. Most general dictionaries include:
1) the ordinary words of everyday life, such as bread, run and
2) literary words used as aggregation, despoil,
3) thechnical word, such as starboard, gene and ratio;
4) words used chiefly on informal occasions, such as gap and
5) words used in writing to give an old-fashioned flavor, such
as aweary and avaunt;
6) words not used today but found in the writtings of some
authors, such as plaister for plaster;
7) words or phrases form other languages, such as coup d’etat
from French, tofu from Japanese and barrio from Spanish.
8) Idioms, such as split hairs and unter the thumb of;
9) Abbreviations, such as U.S.A., Kans., and p.;
10)Important propernames, such as Buddha and Jupiter.
No dictionary records all the words of our language. In fact,
no one knows exatly how many words there are. Besides
ordinary words used in evereryday speech, the English language
includes thousands of geaografical names; hundreds of
thousands of technical terms, including more than 750000
names of inspects alone. New words are coined for
newscientifiv and technical discoveries, and slang words and
specific vocabularies constantly spring up. As nations draw
closer together through trade and travel, satellite
communication, and sharing of technology, languages tend to
borrow more and more words from each other. That is why
dictionary editors must be selective in the words they decide to
Most dictionaries tell us much more than just the meanings
of words. Many list pronunciations, derivations, refixes and
suffixes, illustrative quotations, synonyms and other
information. The illustration articles in dictionaries show in
detail what dictionaries contain.
Dictionaries may be clasified as general dictionaries and special
dictionaries. A general dictionary contains information on
everyday words such as it and the. But it also defines many
technical terms, such as chromatografhy and columella. A
specialized dictionary omits most everyday terms, and limits
itself to information on words used in a particular field, such as
General dictionaries range in size from small pocket
dictionaries to large multivolume or table dictionaries. The
number of entries in general dictionary depends, on its purpose.
Each dictionary is designed to answer the questions of a certain
type of reader. The World Book Dictioanry is an example of a
dictionary designed for family use. The largest general
dictionaries may contain over 400000 entries when a dictionary
has this many entries, many absolete and technical terms are
included. Other general dictionaries may have from 15000
entries to 200000 entries.
Specialized dictionaries are designed to give more
information in particular fields than general dictionaries can.
Dictionaries of this kind can be divided into such group as:
1) Explanatory dictionaries
2) Etymological dictionaries
3) Dictionaries of synonyms
4) Phraseological dictionaries.
Besides, such dictionaries can be mentioned as historical
Bilingual or translating dictionaries reresent the most
ordinary, widespread type. They contain words and expressions
of the native language and their foreign equivalents, or vice-
versa. (the English-Russian dictionary by V. K. Miller, etc)
Explanatory dictionaries give definitions of word meanings.
In fact to a certain extent they acquaint us with the history of
vocabulary development. The explanation are given in the same
language, so they are one-language dictionaries, as it were. For
example “Webster’s New World dictionary of the American
language”, Webster’s “New International dictionary of the
English language” are usually considered to be the most
available and popular editions. But the greatest authority,
naturally, and the most comprehensive is The New English
dictionary on Historical Principles.
Etymological dictionaries state the origin of words. If
borrowed, the source of borrowing and the original form are
given, with all the subsequent changes in meaning and usage. If
native, the Anglo-Dakon form is given together with the history
of word development paralel forms in other Gemanic languages.
Skeat’s Etymological dictionary is believed to be one of the
most widely used.
Dictionaries of synonymes give either groups of synonyms
without any explanations of difference in shades of meaning or
usage, as concise dictionaries usually do, or as in full-size
synonymic dictionaries, one can find lengthy definitions of
every synonym that the group contains with even directions as
to how to use them. The dictionary of this kind is the Webster’s
dictionary of synonyms. It does not give any etymological or
historical information but it supplies very detailed and extensive
explanations of the subtlest shades of meaning that synonyms
differ in. The lists of synonymes are much more exhaustive than
in the earlier dictionaries of synonymes (e. g. amiable, lovable,
gracious, cordial, affable, genial, warm-hearted, warm,
responsive, kind, tender, kindly, begignant, benign).
Phraseological dictionaries deal with phraseological group of
a certain language(“English Idioms” by W. G. Smith, “English
Idioms and how to use them” by W. McMordie etc)
The best known phonetical dictionary is “An English
Pronouncing Dictionary” by Jones. Among dialectal
dictionaries the “Slang Dictionary” by Chatto and Windus is
famous. It is also called “Ethymological, Historical and
Before using a dictionary, one should become familiar with
the metods, principles, and scope of the book because various
dictionaries are arranged in different ways. Many American
dictionaries are arranged in different ways. Many american
dictionaries arrange all entries in a single alphabetical list.
Others put abbreviations, geographical and biographical names,
and foreign words and phrases in separate lists, usually at the
end of the book. All good dictionaries today have introductory
sections that explain what the book contains and how it is
First of all let us now look carefully at some dictionary entries
in an effort to secure from them all the information they contain.
We shall begin by looking closely at the entry anecdote in the
College edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary.
an.ec.dote(an’ik-dot’), n, [Fr. ;ML. Anecdota;Gr. Anekdota,
neut. Pl. of anecdots unpublished;an-, not
+ekdotos<ekdidonai;ek-, out+didonai, to give]
1) pl. Originally, little-known, entertaining facts of history or
2) a short, entertaining account of some happening, usually
personal or biographical. –SIN. , see story.
This dictionary makes etymology one of its strong features
and so serves exceptionally well for our purpose.
The following things about this entry are of interest:
1) The entry word, printed in boldface to give it more
prominence, is divided by periods into its three syllables. This
form of division not only helps out with the pronunciation of a
word, but it also gives assistance to one whohas to divide a word
at the end of a line of writing or printing.
In such cases, words should be devided with respect to their
2) then, within curves, the word is rewritten, this time in
symbols that show pronunciation. A heavy accent mark,
immediately follows the syllable which receives most stress, and
a lighter mark indicates the syllable getting minor stress. A
sylable, here Ik, which gets no stress is followed by a hyphen.
Following the indication of pronuciation comes the abbreviation
of the of speech to wich the word belongs.
3) It is well-accepted dictionary procedure to place
etymologies in square brackets just after the indication of
the part of speech of the word involved. Etymology easier
to follow if we begin at the very end of it and proceed
back to its beginning.
In Greek there was a verb, “didinai”, meaning “to give”. A
common prefix, ek-, was often used before this verb and it then
became “ekdidonai” (to give out). From this expanded form of
the verb Greek formed an adjective, “ekdotos”, given out. In
Greek it was customary to prefix an- to adjectives beginning
with a vowel and thus reverse or negate their meanings. So the
Greeks formed “anekdotos”, not given out.
Greek adjectives had masculine, feminine, and neuter forms.
The neuter plural of “anekdotos” was “anekdota”, unpublished
things, that is, things not given out. Latin, during the medieval
period, borrowed “anekdota” in the form “anecdota”. This latin
term passed into French, where it was spelled “anecdote”. From
French the word, unchanged in form, passed into English.
4) The meanings are given in the order of their ages, the
oldest meaning being given first. Observe how original
meaning ledon to sense 2, the one which nowadays the
word usually has.
5) At the very end of the entry there is a reference to story for
a presentation of the synonyms of “anekdote”.
Dictionaries perform a useful service by distinguishing
between such terms as “anecdote”, “narrative”, “tale”,
Of course, the larger a dictionary is, the more information one
can obtain from it. Here is the entry “anecdote” as it appears in
the current large unabridged Webster’s New International
dictionary, Second edition.
an’ec-dote (an’ek-dot; an’ik-), n
[Fr. Fr. Ir. Anekdotos not published, fr. An- not + ekdotos
given out, fr. Ekdidonai to gove out, to publish, fr ek- out
+didonai to give. See DATE point of time]
1) pl. Literally, unpublished items; narratives of secret or
private details of history;-often in book titles Now rare.
2) A narrative, sually brief, of a separable incident or event
of curious interst, told without nealice and usually with
intent to amuse or please,often biographical and
vharacteristic of some notable person,esp. of his likable
faibles. (Some modern anecdotes over, he noded in his
elbow chair. Prior)
Syn. –see story.
An’ec-dote v. I. To tell anecdotes-v. t.
To use as a subject for anecdotes. Both rare.
Notice that the etymology here ends with a reference to the
entry DATE, meaning a point of time. An inspection of the
etymology “given of that entry reveals that “anecdote” belongs
to a group of words that are related because they all trace their
ancestry, in whole or in part, back to the same IE root that os
seen in the Greek verb didonai, meaning to give. Here is the lst
of words Webster cities as being related in the manner indicated:
anecdote, condone, dado, damu, dative, datum, die, n..., donate,
dose, dower, edit, pardon, render, sacerdotal.
One of the unique and highly valuable features of the
unabridged Merriam-Webster is that it often groups words
basically related, because they, or parts of them, go back to a
common ancestor word. No othe english dictionary gives so
much of this kind of information. Some of the commonest
words in the language have a surpisingly large number of
In the dictionary Century the entry of the word anecdote is as
Anecdote(an’ek-dot), n[<F. Anecdote,
First in pl. Anecdotes, M. L. Anecdota, <Gr. ,
pl., things unpublished, applied by Procopius to his memoirs of
Justinian, which consisted chiefly of gossip about the private
life of the court;prop. Neut. pl. of ]
1) pl. secret history; facts relating to secret or private affairs,
as of governments or of individuals: often used (commonly
in the form anecdota) as the title of works treating of such
2) A short narrative of a particular or detached incident; a
single passage of private life, =Syn. Anecdote, Story.
An anecdote is the relation of an interesting or amusing
incident, generally of a private nature, and is always reported as
A story may be true or fictious, and generally has reference to
a series of incidents so arranged and related as to be
In this treatment of the word there are some things not
1) as is often done in dictionaries, thi sign < is used freely in
the sense of ‘from’. One instance of its use is seen in the
2) According to the etymology given here, the form which
anecdote had in French was the plural, a form to be
expected from the word’s being derived from a plural in
Latin and in Greek. With this informatinon, it is easier to
understand why it was in its plural form that the word made
its first appearance in Engish.
3) The remainder f the Century entry is easily understood with
the possible exeption of the abbreviation”priv,. ” for
privative, a word used in grammar in connection with those
prefixes which change the sense of a word from a positive
to a negative one, as do un-, il-, in-, ir-, in English.
(Compae such words as lawful, unlawful, legal, illegal;
tolerant, intolerant, regular, irregular). Greek made use of a
prefix of this kind, a-, which might also appear as an-. In
Greek grammar this prefix is referred to as” alpha
It may appear to the beginner that by this time we have
certainly found out all there is to know about anecdote, but we
Here is how the entry looks in the Oxford English dictionary.
Anecdote( ). [a fr. Anecdote, or ad. Its source,
med. L. Anecdota(see sense I), a. Gr. Things
unpublished, f. Published, f. To
give out, publish, applied by Procopies to his “Unpublished
Memories” of the of the Emperor Justinian, which consisted
chiefly of tales of the private life of the court;whence the
application of the name to short stories or particulars]
1) pl. Secret, private, or hitherbo unpublished narratives or
details of history. (At first, and how again occas. Used in L form
anecdota( ) 1676 MARVELL Mr. Smirke Wks. 1875
IV.41. A man ... might make a pleasant story of the anecdota of
that meeting. 1727. Swift”Gulliver” VIII. 230. Those who
pretend to write anecdotes, or secret history[...]
2) The narrative of a detached incident, or of a single event,
event told as being in itself interesting or striking( At first, An
item of gossip)
1761 Gorke in Elli’s Orig. Left 11. 483. IV. 429. Monsieur
Coccei will tell you all the anecdotes of London better then I can
[...] 1838. Ht. Martineau Demerara
12. He told some anecdotes of Alfred’s childhood. Mod. An
1826 Disraeli Viv. Grey 3. II. 95 A companion who knew
everything, everyone, full of wit and anecdote.
3) Comb. , as anecdote-book, -loving;anecdote-monger a
retailer of anecdotes[...]
1) With the information already given, it is easy to understand
the etymology of this entry. It should be observed that
according to it, anecdote may not have come into English
from French, but directly from midieval Latin. That this
source is likely is suggested by the spelling the word has in
the earliest example found of its use in English. Had it
come from french anecdotes, it is not easy to see why
Marvel in 1676 spelled it anecdota. Of course, it may have
come into English both from French and from Latin.
2) The most noteworthy feature of this entry, and of the
dictionary from which it comes, is that the definitions are
followed by examples of the use of the word in the senses
given. These examples all follow the same pattern. First
comes the date, than the authors name in small capitals,
than thie title of the work cited, usually abbreviated,
followed by the number of the page. The use of illustrative
quotationsis a marked feature of historical dictionaries.
They are given generously in the OED, there being about
1827306 of them in that great work.
It wod be a mistake, however, to conclude that the earliest
example given in the OED for a word in a particular sense is
really the first time the word uccurs in print. The OED is a
remarkable dictionary, but it would bu much more so if those
who collected, material for it had been able to find the very first
printed uses of all the words with extremely useful to have such
dates as are given, but they should not be misinterpreted.
3) Under 3 in the above entry there are given combinations
into which anecdote has entered. The first two of these,
anecdote-book, and anecdote-loving, are illustrated by only one
example each. Neither of the expressions appears to have been
much used. The same may be said of anecdote-monger, which is
treated slingtly differently becouse two examples of its use were
The modern American dictionary is typically a single compact
volume published at a relatively modest price containing:
1) definitive American spellings;
2) pronunciation indicated by diacritical markings;
3) strictly limited etymologies;
4) numbered senses;
5) some illustrations;
6) selective treatment of synonyms and antonyms;
7) enxyclopedic inclusion of scientific, technological,
geofraphical, and biographical items.
The first American dictionaries were unpretentious little
schoolbooks based chiefly on Johnson’s Dictionary of 1775 by
way of various English abridgments of that work. The most
famous work of this class, Noah Websters Compedious
Dictionary of the English Language(1806) was an enlargement
of Entick’s spelling Dictionary (London 1764), distinguished
from its predecessors chiefly by a few encyclopedic
supplements and emphasis upon its Aericanism. The book was
never popular and contributed little either to Webster’s own
reputation or to the development of the American dictionary in
The first important date in American lexicography is 1828.
The work that makes it important is Noah Webster’s An
American Dictionary of the English Language in two volumes.
Webster’s book has many deficiencies-etymologies quite
untouched by the linguistic sciense of the time, a rudimentary
pronunciation system actually inferior to that used by Walker in
1791, etc. –but in its insistence upon American spellings, in
definitions keyed to the American scene, and in its illustrative
quotatons from the founding Fathers of the Republic, it provided
the country with the first native dictionary comparable in scope
with that of Dr. Jhonson. Probably its greatest contribution to
succeding American dictionaries was the style of definition
writing-writing of a clarity and pithiness never approached
before its day.
The first American lexicographer to hit upon the particular
pattern that disbinguishes the American dictionary was
Webster’s lifelong rival, Joseph E. Worcesfer. His
Comprehensive Pronouncing, and Explanation Dictionary of the
English Language(1830), actually a thoroughly revised
abridgment of Webster’s two-volume work of 1828, was
characterised by the additions of new words, a more
conservative spelling, brief, well phrased definitions, full
indication of pronunciation by means of diacritics, use of stress
marks to divide syllables, and lists of synonyms. Because it was
compact and low priced, it immediately became popular-far
more popular in fact, than any of Webster’s own dictionaries in
his own lifetime.
In the field of unabridged dictionaries, the most important
accretion is the great /american linguist, William Dwight
Whitney and issued in six volumes. At the moment , the most
important advances in lexicography are taking place in the field
of the abridged collegiate-type dictionaries.
Meanwhile the scholarly dictionary has not been neglected.
Once the New English dictionary Was published, scholarly
opinion reealized the need to supplement it in the various
periods of English and particulary in American English. The
first of the proposed supplements, edited by Sir William Graigie
and Professor G. R. Hulbert, is the Dictionary of American
English on Historical Princples., completed in 1944. This was
followed by a dictionary of Americanisms, edited by Mitford M.
Mathews and publishied in 1951. A Middle English Dictionary,
a dictionary of Later Scottish are in preparation, and work on the
American Dialect society is now under way.
Dictionaries prooide with various kinds of useful
information. Some of them, besides entries, have additional
articles about the English language, forms of address,
weights and measures, special signs and symbols, common
given names, some list historical events, and some, home
remedies and so on.
2) The common reader turns to a dictionary far information
about spelling, pronunciation, meaning and proper use of
words, He wants to know what is current and respectable.
He wants to know facts about any language, especially
difference berween the American and English languages.
3) The average purcaser of a dictionary uses it most often,
probably, to find out what a word “means”. As a reader he
wants to know what the author intended to convey. As the
speaker or writer, he wants to know what a word will
convey to his editors. And this too, is complex, subtle and
forever changing thing.
4) Dictionary material which are in different kinds of
dictionaries widely uses in language investigations by
5) Using the dictionary helps us to improve our language. We
learn more and more new words, phrases, set expressions.
Our vocabulary becomes richer and our language becomes
more connected and tuneful