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Meet Encarta[R], the Lexical IPO of the 1990s, plus WNW's 4th College Ed.

Wordsmiths of the incoming century (millennia are best played one C-note at a time) will remember the MCMXCs as the Decade of the Dueling Dictionaries.

In 1991 the first edition of Random House Webster's College debuted, as did the updated third edition of Macmillan's Webster's New World College. One year later came Houghton Mifflin's upsized American Heritage III and its unique Usage Panel. In 1993 Merriam-Webster's sesquicentennial tenth edition elbowed "Webster" wannabes with a new slogan, "Not just Webster, Merriam-Webster."

Many updates saw print. Random House College's marketers challenged competitors in 1999 with the dust-jacket flag "Updated Annually." And just this fall, Webster's New World College - earlier anointed as the go-to book by the Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal - presented its all-new fourth edition.

But the lexical IPO of the 1990s has to be the Encarta[R] World English Dictionary from St. Martin's Press, New York, out last August. Published as well in electronic form, by Microsoft, the 8 1/2 x 11 x 2 1/4[inches] plain edged hardback is "The first newly written dictionary in more than 30 years," according to its U.S. general editor, Anne H. Soukhanov, who also edited American Heritage III back in 1992. On paper it costs U.S. $50, on plastic, U.S. $34.95.

IABC writers and editors will be the first to ask "What is world English?" Editor Soukhanov will reply, "It's the English - in all its geographical and regional varieties and subvarieties - spoken around the globe in eight major areas of the world. It includes American - or U.S. - English, Canadian English, Caribbean English, African English, South Asian English, East Asian English, Australian/New Zealand/South Pacific English and British English."

She adds that over a billion people speak English today, with 375 million using it as their native tongue and another 375 million using it as a fluent second language. Her research supports the view that English is the lingua franca, the communicative medium of choice globally: It is used in at least 80 percent of computer-associated or -generated communications worldwide today... it's used on 85 percent of WWW sites.

* With more than 400,000 boldface entry forms, Encarta offers thousands of new words, e.g., digerati, Generation Y, gonk, plus "Quick Definitions": These appear where a word has multiple senses and offer an overview of a word's meaning in six or fewer words printed in bold small caps. This is a majorly useful feature for working writists. More information at www.worldenglishdictionary.com.

* As noted above, Webster's New World College Dictionary puts on a happy face for the 2000s with a 1,744-page remake of its flagship work. The fourth edition (U.S. $21.95) comprises more than 163,000 entries and more than 7,400 new words. Mike Agnes, editor in chief, says new words and meanings find their way into the dictionary based primarily on their "frequency and breadth of use, and whether they show themselves as well established over time. That last part is the key: We see little sense in trying to be the first to include the latest slang term or buzzword only to watch the word die a year later and need to be removed to make way for the next one."

Among the neologisms: adjective aw-shucks, for unsophisticated, often winningly so; bubba, for (your choice) close friend, Southern U.S. man who may be easygoing, assertively masculine, uneducated, bigoted, violent, (all of the above); flop sweat, for the sweat that an actor or other performer gives forth when afraid of failing before an audience; ovo-lacto vegetarian, for the vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy products - cf. vegan, who eats no animal products; und so welter, meaning there's now a new way to say and so forth, and so on; slippery slope, for a course or situation regarded as easily or inevitably leading to further decline or deterioration; and 4x4, for a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The editors ID the newbies as slang, informal, dialectal, obsolete, archaic, foreign, or even poetic. And if you really dig your dictionaries you'll be charmed by Sidney I. Landau's front-of-the-book essay Dictionaries of English: He prints a splendid section on prescriptivism (there are degrees of correctness in language usage) and descriptivism (the concept of correctness in language is neither useful nor relevant).

Landau's essay concludes with this nod to Ned Lud: "There are some advantages to using dictionaries ... electronically; but books are cheap and portable, they do not require electricity or battery power to use, they can be read in all kinds of light, and everybody knows how to use them without an instruction manual."

The Guide to the Dictionary is super user-friendly in that its content is presented as questions: What are AMERICANISMS? What are HOMOGRAPHS? What are IDIOMATIC PHRASES? Supporting materials include more than 800 illustrations, photos and diagrams, plus more than 3,000 synonyms and antonyms. There is an extensive reference section and a color world atlas.

Alden Wood, APR, lecturer on editorial procedures at Simmons College, Boston, Mass., writes and lectures on language usage. He is a retired insurance industry vice president of advertising and public relations. His e-dress is wood@simmons.edu.
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Author:Wood, Alden
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 1999
Words:863
Previous Article:Riveted.
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