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still an excellent dictionary, but fewer interesting side notes
on March 17, 2012
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language has been my favorite dictionary for many years. I just bought the fifth edition (2084 pages), and still have the first (1550 pages) and fourth (2074 pages). In this review, I'll discuss two items -- the entries themselves, and the side notes for various words.
For the entries, I looked at a short section near the word "dictionary." Compared to the fourth edition, the fifth edition dropped "didapper" (a type of grebe) and added "dicyclomine" (a medical drug); this reflects a greater emphasis on technical words. (This continues a trend that has been occurring since the first edition -- dropping "Dictograph" and "Didache" and adding "dictyosome" and "didanosine.")
To me, the outstanding feature of the American Heritage Dictionary has been the side notes -- not just synonyms, but also usage notes, word histories, etc. Unfortunately, in this respect, the fifth edition is considerably weaker than the fourth.
In the L section through "limbo", the fourth edition has 24 words with side notes (excluding synonyms), but the fifth edition has only 13. That is, about half of the old side notes are gone. The fifth edition no longer has a word history for "lemon", a usage note for "lifestyle", or a regional note for "lightning bug." There is also a small reduction in the number of words with synonyms.
These side notes made the American Heritage Dictionary fun for browsing, and the fifth edition is much weaker in this regard than the fourth. It's still an excellent dictionary, but less interesting and enjoyable than the previous edition.