MICROSOFT ENCARTA COLLEGE DICTIONARY
Aimed primarily at students—and redacted from Microsoft's Encarta World English Dictionary (2001)—this new volume promises two things competitors such as American Heritage lack. The first, predictably, concerns technology: Encarta includes entries for "electronic town hall," "LMK" ("let me know" in e-mail) and, yes, LINUX, marking tech-related definitions with a (silly-looking) lightning bolt. Instead of an essay on historical linguistics, Encarta gives a very practical five-page essay on Web research methods and Netiquette. The second, more substantial, difference concerns its audience. With help from many college English teachers, lead editor Soukhanov (Word Watch) and crew aim skillfully at undergraduates and others who need help avoiding common errors. Frequent wrong spellings ("vinagrette," "twelvth") appear as their own entries in gray strikethrough type; inserts following definitions explain correct usage, distinguishing, for example, "flaunt" from "flout." Other inserts give "literary links" (Camus for "stranger," Forster for "view") or offer "quick facts" about terms like "chaos theory." Encarta gives proper nouns troublingly minimal definitions: "Neil Armstrong" and "Jane Austen" get big portrait photos, but are identified only as "U.S. astronaut" and "British author." Obscure words and technical senses turn up, but not always reliably—"no-kill" (of an animal shelter) but not "noisette"; "lingual" means only "of the tongue" or "of language," though it bears, in phonetics, a more specific sense. These and other choices may strike know-it-alls as bad news, but likely they will please a hurried, or less sophisticated, readership—the volume may irritate purists, but it fills a genuine, perhaps an important, niche. (July)
Forecast:Microsoft's Encarta Encyclopedia took a beating for its omissions and mistakes; this imperfect dictionary should compete not with comprehensive reference works (as Encarta World English meant to) but with other college dictionaries—it could do very well if promoted vigorously.