At the Bar of Discarded Books

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Katherine Rosman, "Move Over, Wikipedia. Dictionaries Are Hot Again." NYT 2/11/2017:

The end of the article:

“The information we share is relevant in a new way that gets more attention,” Ms. Naturale wrote in an email forwarded by Merriam-Webster’s publicist. “There’s also a sense that we’re increasingly divided, and the dictionary’s role is to help people communicate with each other.”

This is not the only role, of course. Mr. Sheidlower, the lexicographer, said: “In times of stress, people will go to things that will provide answers. The Bible, the dictionary or alcohol.”

The evidence in the article, also consistent with my own impression, is that it's online dictionaries that are thriving, more than the paper versions…


  1. mistah charley, ph.d. said,

    February 11, 2017 @ 10:05 am

    I don't doubt that these are times of stress, but is there actual evidence that the Bible and alcohol are being resorted to more often?

  2. Avinor said,

    February 11, 2017 @ 10:36 am

    Is the Guide Michelin considered obsolete in the US?

  3. bks said,

    February 11, 2017 @ 11:17 am

    I'm trying to remember the last time I opened a volume of my paper Encyclopedia Britannica or my Times Atlas of the World.

  4. MattF said,

    February 11, 2017 @ 12:17 pm


    I think it's discarded because of age– 40 years is pretty old for a restaurant guide.

  5. Gregory Kusnick said,

    February 11, 2017 @ 1:23 pm

    I still use my 15-pound Webster's Unabridged occasionally — when I need to flatten a crumpled document, or blot up a stain from the rug.

  6. Bloix said,

    February 11, 2017 @ 1:57 pm

    I used to go to my Columbia Encyclopedia and my National Geographic Atlas a couple of times a week.

  7. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    February 11, 2017 @ 2:54 pm

    It seems people value searchability above browsability when it comes to dictionaries.

  8. TR said,

    February 11, 2017 @ 5:33 pm

    You'd think lexicographers of all people would know better than to talk about "the dictionary", as if it was one and immutable.

  9. PickeringPast said,

    February 11, 2017 @ 6:37 pm

    Life was simpler when you could use Roget's Thesaurus to 'put into your own words' info lifted from The World Book Encyclopedia. Plus teachers didn't have pesky plagiarism checkers like they do today.

    As Burt Lancaster said in the wonderful movie Atlantic City, 'You should have seen the Atlantic Ocean back then'.

  10. Neal Goldfarb said,

    February 11, 2017 @ 8:41 pm

    Now is the time to stock up on used dictionaries. There are lots for sale online, often for absurdly low prices. I got MW3 Unabridged a few years for (I think) something in the range of $15. I bought the first two editions of Collin Cobuild (the only editions that John Sinclair was involved with) for less that $5 each, plus shipping. That's an incredible bargain for one of the landmarks of lexicography.

  11. philip said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 5:06 am

    mistah charlie: I ahve seen a few drunk priests, if that it what you mean. But none of them was carrying a dictionary.
    PickeringPas: what the hell did Uncle Burt's character mean? The sky was better back then too, though.

  12. Ray said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 10:11 am

    there's also the joy and benefit of discovery that happens when using a bound dictionary…

  13. Rodger C said,

    February 12, 2017 @ 12:44 pm

    The sky was better back then too, though.

    Not this dividing and indifferent blue.

  14. maidhc said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 4:49 am

    I still like physical dictionaries. Searching online gives you so much junk. Other than modern slang.

    OED and AHD are what I turn to when I have questions.

  15. Andreas Johansson said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 4:58 am

    PickeringPast wrote:

    Life was simpler when you could use Roget's Thesaurus to 'put into your own words' info lifted from The World Book Encyclopedia.

    I had classmates who did that. Always struck me as more work than actually learning the material.

    I recently bought a physical dictionary, but I don't expect to ever start using deadtree encyclopaedias again. Physical travel guides have the advantage of not requiring Internet connection in foreign parts, which may be expensive.

  16. Rodger C said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 8:43 am

    My 1960 deadtree Britannica still sits in my upstairs hall, and I look something up in it now and again, if only to recall what I was exposed to about a subject in my youth. Since my joints and bifocals no longer allow me to examine the spines easily, I usually find an article by touching the tops of the volumes and counting "A to Anno, Annu to Baltic, Baltim to Brail, Brain to Castin, …"

  17. Francois Lang said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 9:28 am

    @ MattF
    > I think it's discarded because of age– 40 years is pretty old for a restaurant guide.

    Old Michelin Red Guides are collectors items. I once chatted with an antiquarian bookseller in Paris who told me that the jewel in the crown is the 1945 version (selling on for over $1000), because it included detailed information about roads that were unpassable because of war damage.

  18. Graeme said,

    February 14, 2017 @ 5:48 am

    2 volume OED, Collins French and Robert. Much quicker to pull off the shelf than logon to university catalogue and navigate to proprietary online versions. Is the US market in thrall to Merriam-Webster website?

    Michelin Guides (the restaurant raters) expanded to Brazil recently. And you come across the Green Guides everywhere in France at least for the tourist seeking the shock of the old.

  19. Graeme said,

    February 14, 2017 @ 6:08 am

    It does raise one publishing question. In the previous few generations, schools mandated students have a school sized dictionary – in Australia it might be a Collins or Oxford, typically hardcover and the size of a Wisden Almanac, so as to be portable yet not merely pocket-sized; reference like but not complicated by etymology or loads of technical entries. Thrifty families would pass copies from sibling to sibling, and even across generation. Showier kids would insist on a new one; those kids were the least likely to thumb it.

    My daughters (born 2002 and 2004) were encouraged but not required to have one in their primary school 'tidy tray' or desk. Now at high school they are required to have a dictionary handy, but only in the form of a free app.

    How has that change gutted the economics of lexicography?

  20. Qafqa said,

    February 23, 2017 @ 7:42 pm

    Surely they meant Wiktionary rather than Wikipedia.

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