The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

American Heritage Dictionary, Author, Houghton Mifflin Company, Manufactured by, Joseph P. Pickett, Introduction by
American Heritage Dictionary, Author, Houghton Mifflin Company, Manufactured by, Joseph P. Pickett, Introduction by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $60 (2116p) ISBN 978-0-395-82517-4
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Hardcover - 2116 pages - 978-0-618-08230-8
Hardcover - 2112 pages - 978-0-618-70173-5
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Since its 1969 first edition, the American Heritage has battled Webster's for desk, library and classroom space. Against its older rival, American Heritage boasts better looks, more frequent updates and a 200-member Usage Panel with verbal all-stars like novelists Alice Munro and Sherman Alexie. The third edition of the American Heritage appeared only in 1992; what's new about this edition? For one thing, 10,000 more words, frequently colloquial ones or new coinages; all dictionaries delete when they add, but here additions seem to outnumber cuts. Another new feature is color: with polychromatic photographs down broad margins, and entry words in greenish-black, the fourth edition looks like the well-dressed offspring of an older reference book and a Web site--an appearance likely to please younger users. The fourth does well with '90s cultural terms--""permatemp"" and ""McJob,"" ""techno"" and ""indie"" (rock). It's good with compounds, especially new ones--""celestial longitude,"" ""jewel box"" (for CDs), ""crack baby,"" ""poetry slam."" Coverage of slang has also improved: the third made ""dick"" ""a guy"" and a male organ; the fourth gives the noun as an insult and five senses for ""dick"" as a verb. Occasional boxes offer long paragraphs on (for example) when and where ""party"" can mean ""person,"" why the Usage Panel hates ""hopefully,"" and the evolution of the word ""circus."" As in the third, a substantial appendix guides readers through Indo-European roots. American Heritage's examples and etymologies still can't compare to the Oxford English Dictionary--nor should they. Instead, the volume strikes a commendable, practical balance between depth of coverage and ease of use. (The CD-ROM contains all the text of the bound book, with less art, but also the words retired from the third edition; it can be purchased separately for $24.95.) (Sept.)
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