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AHD3 - an oversize lode for the 90's.

On August 20, word churners will be able to buy a major new dictionary, one with its own 800 telephone number in the continental U.S. and more than 200,000 boldface entry words and forms.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, third edition (AHD3), displays more than 16,000 new words and meanings and 2,800+ idioms and phrasal verbs. (I don't know about you, but I had to look up phrasal verb; it's a combination of a verb and one or more adverbs or prepositions, e.g., phase in, catch on, take off, put up with.)

Houghton Mifflin, the Boston, Mass., publishing house, wants U.S. $30.95 for its oversize (8 1/2- x 11-inch) lade, which comprises 2,184 pages, but the quid pro quos seem to justify the price. For example, AHD3 stands apart from all others, says the publisher, because of its "500-Plus Usage Notes and comments - many with Usage Panel opinions - which deal not only with grammar, diction, and style but also with new usage issues of the nineties, such as gender, ethnicity, sexual Preference, and the new jargon."

The Usage Panel, a resource unique to American Heritage dictionaries for 25 years, remains a central feature of the AHD3. The 173-member jury responds to questions about disputed usages - among them matters of pronunciation - and their comments are included in many Usage Notes. For instance, how should harass be pronounced? A recent survey the editors sent to panelists produced a 50-50 split; half the panel puts stress on the first syllable, and the other half puts it on the second. The panelists' written comments indicate that each side considers itself an embattled minority.

Starting next month, and continuing to December, denizens of the lower 48 U.S. states may dial 1-800-NEW-WORD and put their feet up for a couple of minutes while U.S. movie/TV actor Tony Randall (one of the panelists) talks about the language. Emphasis will be on words and usages in the news, including Render, the arts, science, medicine, technelogy, and the like. Four or five different recordings will alternate during the four-month play-period.

Among the words new to this third edition are El Nino, metafiction, minimalist, outplacement, s/he, ghost net, sacred baboon, waitron, Mirandize, narrowcast, women's studies, granny flat, sunspace, and comfort food.

Executive Editor Anne H. Soukhanov and Senior Lexicographer David Jost include more than 30,500 etymologies plus several hundred word-histories, which tell how words enter a language, how they develop, and how they interact with history and culture.

(Incidentally, comfort food is that which is "easily prepared plain food, such as macaroni and cheese, meat loaf, or puddings, sometimes prepackaged." I'm having trouble coming up with a way to use that one ... maybe a euphenism for mystery meat?)

* A reader who craves, and gets, anonymity, enjoyed the item I presented about the curling iron with the label "Do not use while sleeping." She writes from St. Louis, Mo., to share this charmer: "I recently purchased a |sun shade' to put across the windshield in my car. Printed on the item is |Do not drive with sun shade in place.' Could you imagine someone actually trying to drive while their entire windshield is blocked by cardboard?"

No, I could not, but somewhere some belt-and-suspenders shyster could, and did.

* Jodi L. Levy, who is marketing communications manager for the Water Environment Federation in Alexandria, Va., writes, "Is it incorrect to say |She is a friend of mine?' Isn't that a double possessive? The |of signifies possession, so technically it should be |She is a friend of me.' Has |friend of mine' become accepted based on euphony?"

John Bremner's Words on Words spells out clear answers to these questions: "|A story of Ernie Pyle' is a story about Ernie Pyle. |A story of Ernie Pyle's' is a story by Ernie Pyle. The of and the apostrophe make for a double possessive, which is idiomatically proper. The same is true for pronouns: |a story of his.'" Or, as in our colleague's inquiry, "a friend of mine." Words Into Type adds, "|Bell is a friend of his' is correct but |Ben is a friend of him' is not." Also called double genitive, the d. possessive has been stocked in the word store for a couple of centuries.

Levy also comments, "We have come to use the word |moot' to mean |not worth debating or discussing,' while the American Heritage Dictionary defines moot as |subject to debate, arguable.' What's going on?"

With a genealogy going back to Anglo-Saxon mot, for "meeting or assembly," moot, say William and Mary Morris in their Harper Dictionary, "came into general use from the language of law and the result has been some confusion as to its meaning and use. As popularly used today, it means |open for discussion or debate.' However, in law schools a |moot question' is a hypothetical one used as the basis for a mock trial which provides legal exercise and experience for the students. This has given moot a connotation of |insignificant,' |unimportant,' and |academic.'"

* What's wrong with this sentence? - "Dr. Pepper soft drinks are my favorite." Dr. Scholl's footcare products ... yes; Dr. Denton's clothing ... yes; but one day I must find out why this trademark reads Dr Pepper.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Wood on Words; 3rd edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
Author:Wood, Alden S.
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Column
Date:Aug 1, 1992
Previous Article:The secret of communicating bad news to employees.
Next Article:Computers get their revenge.

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