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The New Oxford American Dictionary

It’s large, heavy, erudite, accessible and fairly expensive. Its Editor, Erin McKean, is, according to American newspaper reports, the hippest and sexiest lexicographer around. It’s also the first such work, so far as I know, with an electronic edition accessible on the road, since it can be downloaded to your Palm, Blackberry, or Windows mobile device.

In this new edition, a press release tells me with the modesty characteristic of such documents, Erin McKean has added 2000 new terms and hundreds of new photographs, plus better layout (I resist the blurb’s readability, though it’s there on page 1409).

The cover of The New Oxford American Dictionary

As always, it’s the new entries listed in the press release that provoke the most interest, if only to confirm the belief of curmudgeons that the language is well on its way to hell in a handcart, helped by permissive dictionary makers who let any old neologism into their pages. Being separated as I am from daily exposure to the raw subject matter by 3000 miles of ocean, many are new to me, too, such as agritainment (“farm-based entertainment, typically developed as a revenue source for small-scale farmers and including a wide range of activities”); buckle bunny (“a woman who is a follower or devotee of rodeos and cowboys”); bridezilla (“an over-zealous bride-to-be who acts irrationally or causes offense”); C-level (“the executive level of a corporation”); diabulimia (“the manipulation by diabetic patients of insulin treatments in order to lose weight); clueful (“well-informed”); fanboy (an obsessive male fan, usually of movies, comic books, or science fiction”); October surprise (“any political event orchestrated (or apparently orchestrated) in the month before an election, in the hopes of affecting the outcome”).

Of course, all the boring standard words of English are here, too. There are hundreds of usage notes, balanced and assured, without pandering either to obsessive traditionalists or anything-goes permissivists; there are lots of extended and very useful notes on groups of easily confused words, under the heading “The Right Word”. If you’re looking for a desk dictionary that covers the spectrum of American English, with a fair quantity of encyclopaedic information and illustration thrown in, you could do a lot worse. But why isn’t there a digital version for a Windows-based computer?

[Erin McKean [ed], The New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition; published by Oxford University Press on 16 May 2005; hardback, pp2088; ISBN 0195170776; publisher’s price US$60.00.]

Page created 11 Jun. 2005

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