What Else Can Google Do For You? Replace Your Dictionary!

Well, not quite. But it seems the traditional dictionary is sorely in need of replacing. Outdated, insufficient and lacking context, more and more wordsmiths are eschewing the traditional lexicographical sources for on-line help.

Julia Angwin at the Wall Street Journal points out the flaws of the traditional method here. Angwin opines that Google has become “our database of meaning” and that the traditional sources – Merriam Webster, Oxford English, American Heritage – have become obsolete.

It sounds a bit fantastical to be asserting that the mish-mash of Google information is somehow more valid and usable than the carefully curated lists compiled by expert lexicographers at the publishing houses.  However, a Google search will yield a quick list of definitions from on-line dictionaries and links to examples using the term in context. In other words, you can quickly search out the background information lexicographers themselves use when compiling dictionaries.

Angwin points out the biggest hurdles dictionaries face in remaining relevant in the world of Google:  lack of usage examples, infrequent updates and space constraints. Google has none of these drawbacks. However, there also is a sometimes obvious lack of curatorship on-line, which can lead a researcher astray with out-of-date definitions and incomplete entries.

Angwin presents a third option that somewhat addresses the shortcomings of both traditional dictionaries and Google. Wordnik is an on-line resource started by the former editor-in-chief of the Oxford American Dictionary. Wordnik currently contains more than 1.7 million words and more than 130 million examples of word usage. Wordnik relies on the American Heritage Dictionary  of the English Language, Fourth Edition and Roget’s II, The New Thesaurus Third Edition, so Wordnik, in some ways, is no better than these original sources. Wordnik does equip the resource with lots of sample sentences, providing a better sense than traditional sources provide of proper usage .  Wordnik also is attempting to update its database more frequently than traditional resources, offering new words, definitions and usages as they become available.  Wordnik adds other information for words, such as related words, images, statistics, audio pronunciation, and user-contributed data.

Best of all, Wordnik is free, and not the nearly $300 per year on-line subscription price for the OED.

Another on-line resource to enhance your research experience!