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The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Hardcover – April 12, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0618701728 ISBN-10: 0618701729 Edition: 4th

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 2112 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 4 edition (April 12, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618701729
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618701728
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 2.1 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (186 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #653,881 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The latest edition of the American Heritage Dictionary is out, and that's hot news--not just for the resolute followers of lexicographical minutiae, but for the general reading and writing public as well. Why? Because the American Heritage is a long-standing favorite family dictionary (never underestimate the value of pictures) and one of the prime dictionary references for magazines, newspapers, and dot.com content providers. For scads of writers and editors across the U.S., it sets the standard on matters of style and lexicographical authority.

So this new edition is exciting and noteworthy, but how good is it? In its favor, the fourth edition is as current a dictionary as you can get. It's six years fresher than the 1994 version, with 10,000 words and definitions you won't find in the still venerable but now slightly dated third edition. For example, unlike its predecessor (and also unlike the 1996 Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary), this fourth edition covers dot-com, e-commerce, and soccer mom, Ebonics, Viagra, and a surf definition for cruising television channels and the Internet.

Its panel of special consultants includes authorities on anthropology, architecture, cinema, and law, plus military science, music, religion, and sports, and that is reflected in an impressively comprehensive coverage of the arts, culture, and technology. Sadly, however, there are no medical consultants on the panel, and that loss is felt in some substandard medical definitions. Other flaws: there's a greater than usual tendency to define a word with a form of the same word--for example, fuzzy, whose first two definitions are "1. covered with fuzz." and "2. of or resembling fuzz." And some definitions seem needlessly wordy, such as the entry for furious, which is "full of or characterized by extreme anger; raging." Compare that with the more succinct Oxford Encyclopedic entry: "1. extremely angry. 2. full of fury."

On the other hand, there are valuable entries throughout the dictionary supplying additional information on synonyms, usage, or word history, and these extras, such as the history of diatribe and the usage notes on discomfit, are interesting. The layout is easy on the eyes, with dark blue/green bold type setting the words apart from their definitions, and 4,000 color photographs, maps, and illustrations that are both useful and delightful. On one page, the margin provides color depictions of Francis Bacon, bacterium, and a Bactrian camel. Theodore Roosevelt and a rooster share another margin, while a third page offers Isak Dinesen, a dingo, and dinoflagellate. It is a fascinating book to peruse, and a compellingly scholarly addition to the American Heritage Dictionary line. --Stephanie Gold --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Ever since the furor in the U.S. that greeted Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1961) faded, it has become a given that dictionaries should be descriptive rather than prescriptive, a principle sanctified in Britain in the 1850s in Herbert Coleridge's original plan for the monumental project that eventually produced the Oxford English Dictionary. That dictionaries grow by gradual accretion of new words and new senses characterizes the latest edition of the American Heritage Dictionary (AHD), even if it, more than any other contemporary English-language dictionary, flirts with prescriptiveness in some of its usage notes.Reflecting trends in society since publication of the third edition (1992), the most visible additions to the lexicon come from technology. Hence AHD now includes the sense of dot as a synonym for period in computer jargon; a new techie sense for geek; and new entries for dot-com, e-commerce, HTML, HTTP, and URL. These are but a few of the 10,000 new senses or terms incorporated into this edition. Others (e.g., goth, personal watercraft, transgendered) come from the fields of pop culture, entertainment, sports, and business, to name a few.AHD shows two other, much more visible signs of its times. First, the thumbnail marginal illustrations have been transformed from black-and-white to color. This increases their clarity, their utility, and the value they add to definitions. Second, it comes in both print and CD-ROM formats.The CD-ROM (for Windows 95 through 2000 and NT and available for $24.95 if purchased alone) offers content almost identical to that of the print volume and many added features. Some of the illustrations in the print edition are absent from the CD (e.g., mackinaw). This is a small sacrifice for the far greater gains, one of which relates to illustrations. A search feature allows users to display only those terms that contain illustrations, and when any of these is displayed, its thumbnail illustration can be enlarged, offering even greater clarity than the color thumbnails on paper.Other features of the CD-ROM make it an attractive alternative to print, especially for personal use in situations in which it can reside more or less permanently on a PC's CD-ROM drive. A running list of entries in a frame to the left of the display window provides, with much greater precision than the printed dictionary's thumb indexing, quick access to a letter's section. In addition to the word search and A-Z scrolling display of all entries in that left-side window, the window's contents can be limited to display usage notes (usage, synonym, word histories, regional notes), Indo-European roots, Semitic roots, or (as noted) entries containing images. Most entries on the CD-ROM also include an audio icon that, when clicked, plays the word's pronunciation in an audible voice (for some words that of a male, for others that of a female). Just as the Webster's Tenth Collegiate Dictionary allows a toolbar link from Microsoft Word to the dictionary's contents, AHD provides this linkage through a right-mouse click.One other feature demonstrates the dictionary's sense of its times in the age of Internet filters and Dr. Laura controversies: when loading the CD-ROM, the user is asked whether to load the dictionary to include or exclude access to "vulgar" words. This is a latter-day sign of AHD's long willingness to apply usage labels more freely than most of its competitors. Taken by themselves, its usage labels (e.g., "slang," "vulgar") unquestionably appear to be prescriptive. However, when viewed in the context of the dictionary's usage notes, they soften and take on nuance. The usage notes depend heavily upon a large panel of writers and commentators representing diverse views. (What other group can claim both Harold Bloom and Roy Blount Jr and both Antonin Scalia and David Sedaris as members?) The notes convey the panel's uncertainties, disagreements, and qualifiers about how the words are and ought to be used. On the whole, AHD takes an old, inherently prescriptive dictionary device and uses it to describe the majority and minority opinions of a group of facile users of the language. A new category of notes, "Our Living Language," explains how language changes, for example, the reasons why the Ocracoke Island brogue is fading and the attempts to come up with euphemisms for the euphemism downsize. Approximately 1,800 notes of various sorts provide more context and more description than mere labels.When it comes to the things that users turn to a dictionary for most often--definitions, confirmation of spelling, pronunciation--AHD delivers as well as any other respected, respectable desk dictionary. Its definitions are clear and succinct, and they differentiate among senses of a word. Illustrations of words in sentences enhance selected definitions. A pronunciation key on every two-page spread of the print version is the next best thing to the audio on the CD-ROM.AHD long ago established itself as one of the standard American English dictionaries. Its improvements through expansion, refinement, and extension to the CD-ROM medium ensure its vitality and its value to a broad audience, from junior high on. RBB
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

The 4th edition of The American Heritage Dictionary is the favorite of several dictionaries in our collection.
J. Gallup
I found this dictionary to be a very useful source reference for the definitions of words, and quite direct in conveying the meaning.
Michael Delaware
First, there is the physical layout -- the beautiful pictures, the type face that makes for easy reading, the wonderful color.
Werner Cohn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

359 of 372 people found the following review helpful By Seven Octaves on July 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The American Heritage Dictionary is an excellent 1 volume dictionary, complete with the newest words, beautiful colorful design, and over 2,000 pages on all facets of the English language. I will compare this dictionary to the New Oxford American Dictionary (NOAD) as these are the two best 1-volume English dictionaries available.

In my opinion, the NOAD is clearly a better dictionary for reasons listed below. Generally, the NOAD's entries are longer and more detailed, hence the reader gets more information. The American Heritage definitions are almost too concise (usually too concise for my preference) although many people may prefer the shorter definitions. Each dictionary will have a number of lesser know words (and even some more common words) the other dictionary will not have (especially scientific words, geographical locations, and newer words), so one dictionary is not superior as far as having a significant amount of more entries. It appears to me the NOAD has more entries, but even if it doesn't, it is still a better dictionary.

Some comparisons of American Heritage Dictionary (2006) to the NOAD (New Oxford American Dictionary)(2004)

-The American Heritage 2,006 pages long A to Z, the NOAD is 1,959 pages A to Z. The American Heritage does not list anywhere that I can see how many entries it has. The NOAD says it has over 250,000 entries. The font of the American Heritage is smaller but it is just as easy to read as the NOAD's font. The NOAD uses 3 columns per page, the American Heritage uses 2.

-The American Heritage has some newer words not found in NOAD, such as Red state, Blue state, Sudoku, Texas hold'em, but don't get the idea though this makes it better than the NOAD.
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67 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Robert R. Mendenhall on January 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The fresh, full-color design, enhanced by 4,000 photographs, drawings, and maps in the 4th edition of this truly first-rate dictionary are a noticeable and welcome improvement. As always, of course, the definitions are precise and intelligible, with the most current or central meaning given first -- and the etymologies are excellent. My 3rd edition went home beside the chair where I read, and the 4th is now ensconced on my office desk, where it is used daily. "New and improved" is generally nothing more than a cliche when applied to most products, but the 4th edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language is genuinely both.
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87 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Myth Man on February 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This past fall I sat in on a negotiations course at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and the professor (an extraordinarily creative and free-thinking fellow) recommended that students purchase this particular dictionary because it frequently provides etymological information about words in addition to definitions. I have many etymological dictionaries, but it's nice to have both the definition and a brief etymological note in the same dictionary. It's a classy looking dictionary and would be a great choice for any college or post-grad student. I'm into words -- I own about 30 or 40 different dictionaries (including the OED) so I have a fair basis for comparison. I'm enjoying the American Heritage Dictionary, and I hope if you buy one, you will enjoy it as much.
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199 of 220 people found the following review helpful By Laure-Madeleine on December 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
After using "The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language" (4th ed.) on a daily basis for three weeks, I have discovered that there is a potential defect in it that prospective buyers need beware. The paper used for the pages of this dictionary is very thin, almost like tissue paper. When I turn pages in searching for a word, the bottoms of the pages become very easily chipped (small tears occur). I am very concerned that my new dictionary will become shredded within a few months. I have not had this problem with the same dictionary in the third edition; my copy is several years old. (Publisher please take note and use better paper in subsequent printings.)
I still recommend "The AHD" (4th ed.) as a very good reference dictionary, but if one plans to use it a lot as I do, then "handle with care."
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Pirate Jenny on November 29, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This has 10,000 more words than the Random House Webster's portable that I had before. The definitions are clear and useful. I have the hardcover at home, which is an amazing reference book. I have this at work, and it's faster to just grab it than to go to the computer dictionary.
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132 of 148 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Whether the Fourth Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary is an improvement over the Third Edition is questionable. The most obvious difference between them is the application of color to the thumbnail illustrations which embellish the outside margins of the page. The application of color may be a smart marketing move, but it enhances the least important aspect of the work. The improvement is marginal, since the detail of these miniatures tends to suffer. After using the 4th edition for awhile, I found that I favored the monochrome pictures of the 3rd edition.
The 4th edition is a good dictionary, and no doubt admirably reflects the rapid change and growth of the lexicon. My complaint is with the perception that the publishers encourage, that this oversized reference is more comprehensive than the leading standard sized college dictionaries on the market. I am not able to claim, that Merriam-Webster's Collegiate (as one example) is more comprehensive that the Heritage. Such a determination is beyond me. However, I have calculated the amount of text contained in these two works, per line, per page, and total. Surprisingly, the smaller Merriam-Webster contains a comparable number of words of text over all.
The art of dictionary making is primarily one of including as many entries, definitions, etymologies, and other essential information about words, as possible within the limitations of the printed work. Heritage takes the way of least resistance by simply making the book larger, much larger, and filling the space with eye candy, and removing most of the intimidating abbreviations. The folks at Merriam-Webster have chosen the more traditional way.
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