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  1. Plural of dictionary

Extensive Definition

A dictionary is a book of alphabetically listed words in a specific language, with definitions, etymologies, pronunciations, and other information; or a book of alphabetically listed words in one language with their equivalents in another, also known as a lexicon.. The first dictionary of the Chinese language, the Shuowen Jiezi, was written around 100 CE (although other sources suggest that Chinese scholars may have created a monolingual dictionary as far back as 1109BC), while a Greek lexicon (specifically a list of words used by Homer, and their meanings) was written by Apollonius the Sophist at around the same time Daniel Webster also made a dictionary in the 1700s. It was one of America's first dictionaries. That is where the Webster part in dictionaries comes from.
The first purely English alphabetical dictionary was A Table Alphabeticall, written by English schoolteacher Robert Cawdrey in 1604. It was eight years ahead of the first Italian dictionary and thirty-five years ahead of the French. Conversely, it is eight hundred years after the first Arabic, and almost one-thousand years after the first Sanskrit in India. The only surviving copy is found at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Yet this early effort, as well as the many imitators which followed it, was seen as unreliable and nowhere near definitive. It wasn't until Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) that a truly noteworthy, reliable English Dictionary was deemed to have been produced, and the fact that today many people still mistakenly believe Johnson to have written the first English Dictionary is a testament to this legacy. By this stage, dictionaries had evolved to contain textual references for most words, and were arranged alphabetically, rather than by topic (a previously popular form of arrangement, which meant all animals would be grouped together etc.). Johnson's masterwork could be judged as the first to bring all these elements together, creating the first 'modern' dictionary.
Johnson's Dictionary remained the English-language standard for over 150 years, until the Oxford University Press began writing and releasing the Oxford English Dictionary in short fascicles from 1884 onwards. It took nearly 50 years to finally complete the huge work, and they finally released the complete OED in 12 volumes in 1928. It remains the most comprehensive and trusted English language dictionary to this day, with revisions and updates added by a dedicated team every three months.

Word order

Today, dictionaries of most languages with alphabetic and syllabic writing systems list words in lexicographic order, usually alphabetical or some analogous phonetic system.
In many languages, words are grouped together according to their root word, with the roots being arranged alphabetically. If English dictionaries were arranged like this, the words "import," "export," "support," "report," "porter," "important" and "transportation" would theoretically be listed under the Latin "portare," "to carry." This method has the advantage that all words of a common origin are listed together, but the disadvantage is that one has to know the roots of the word before one can look it up. Some Hebrew, Sanskrit, and Arabic dictionaries work this way.
While most of Japanese and Korean dictionaries are arranged according to their phonetic writing (kana syllabic script for the Japanese, and hangul alphabet for the Korean), the main body of modern Chinese dictionaries mostly is ordered according to the latin alphabet with the pinyin spelling ; but most Chinese dictionaries have an appendix ordering entries accordance to the Chinese logographic writing system, in order to allow readers to find words written in logograms whose pronunciation is not known. Chinese characters may be sorted according to one of many schemes based on the component parts of the characters (radicals, number of strokes, overall shape).


Dictionaries can vary widely in coverage, size, and scope. A maximizing dictionary lists as many words as possible from a particular speech community (e.g., the Oxford English Dictionary), whereas a minimizing dictionary exclusively attempts to cover only a limited selection of words from a speech community (e.g., a dictionary of Basic English words). Take for instance, two dictionaries of Chinese characters: the pocket-sized minimizing dictionary Xinhua Zidian (2004, 700 pages) only includes 11,200 commonly used characters, while the multi-volume maximizing dictionary Hanyu Da Zidian (1995, 5800 pages) includes over 54,678 characters and variants.

Special-purpose dictionaries

There are many different types of special-purpose dictionaries, including bilingual, multilingual, scientifical, historical, biographical, technical and geographical dictionaries.

Specialized dictionaries

According to the Manual of Specialised Lexicography a specialized dictionary (also referred to as a technical dictionary) is a lexicon that focuses upon a specific subject field. Following the description in The Bilingual LSP Dictionary lexicographers categorize specialized dictionaries into three types. A multi-field dictionary broadly covers several semantic fields (e.g., a picture dictionary), a single-field dictionary narrowly covers one particular subject field (e.g., law), and a sub-field dictionary covers a singular field (e.g., constitutional law). For example, the 23-language Inter-Active Terminology for Europe is a multi-field dictionary, the American National Biography is a single-field, and the African American National Biography Project is a sub-field dictionary. In terms of the above coverage distinction between "minimizing dictionaries" and "maximizing dictionaries", multi-field dictionaries tend to minimize coverage across lexical fields (for instance, Oxford Dictionary of World Religions) whereas single-field and sub-field dictionaries tend to maximize coverage within a limited subject field (The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology). See also LSP dictionary.

Data dictionaries

Data sets and databases collected and utilized for statistical analyses are typically accompanied by, or able to be used to generate, a list of all variable names used within the data set, as well as matters such as their meaning, values, level of measurement, length, decimal allowances, and type (numeric, string, etc.)


Another variant is the glossary, an alphabetical list of defined terms in a specialised field, such as medicine or science. The simplest dictionary, a defining dictionary, provides a core glossary of the simplest meanings of the simplest concepts. From these, other concepts can be explained and defined, in particular for those who are first learning a language. In English, the commercial defining dictionaries typically include only one or two meanings of under 2000 words. With these, the rest of English, and even the 4000 most common English idioms and metaphors, can be defined.


Dictionaries for languages for which the pronunciation of words is not apparent from their spelling, such as the English language, usually provide the pronunciation, often using the International Phonetic Alphabet. For example, the definition for the word dictionary might be followed by the (American English) phonemic spelling: /ˈdɪkʃəˌnɛri/. English dictionaries, however, often use other systems, such as the English Phonemic Representation system, in which the pronunciation of dictionary is given as [dĭk'shə-něr'ē]. Yet others use an ad hoc notation; for example, dictionary may become [DIK-shuh-ner-ee].
The online Turkish–English (and English–Turkish) dictionary Seslisozluk enables registered users to listen to the pronunciation of the words.

Variations between dictionaries

Prescription and description

Dictionary makers apply two basic philosophies to the defining of words: prescriptive or descriptive. Noah Webster, intent on forging a distinct identity for the American language, altered spellings and accentuated differences in meaning and pronunciation of some words. This is why American English now uses the spelling color while the rest of the English-speaking world prefers colour. (Similarly, British English subsequently underwent a few spelling changes that did not affect American English; see further at American and British English spelling differences.) Large 20th-century dictionaries such as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and Webster's Third are descriptive, and attempt to describe the actual use of words.
While descriptivists argue that prescriptivism is an unnatural attempt to dictate usage or curtail change, prescriptivists argue that to indiscriminately document "improper" or "inferior" usages sanctions those usages by default and causes language to "deteriorate". Although the debate can become very heated, only a small number of controversial words are usually affected. But the softening of usage notations, from the previous edition, for two words, ain't and regardless, out of over 450,000 in Webster's Third in 1961, was enough to provoke outrage among many with prescriptivist leanings, who branded the dictionary as "permissive."
The prescriptive/descriptive issue has been given so much consideration in modern times that most dictionaries of English apply the descriptive method to definitions, while additionally informing readers of attitudes which may influence their choices on words often considered vulgar, offensive, erroneous, or easily confused. Merriam-Webster is subtle, only adding italicized notations such as, sometimes offensive or nonstand (nonstandard.) American Heritage goes further, discussing issues separately in numerous "usage notes." Encarta provides similar notes, but is more prescriptive, offering warnings and admonitions against the use of certain words considered by many to be offensive or illiterate, such as, "an offensive term for..." or "a taboo term meaning..."
Because of the broad use of dictionaries, and their acceptance by many as language authorities, their treatment of the language does affect usage to some degree, even the most descriptive dictionaries providing conservative continuity. In the long run, however, usage primarily determines the meanings of words in English, and the language is being changed and created every day. As Jorge Luis Borges says in the prologue to "El otro, el mismo": "It is often forgotten that (dictionaries) are artificial repositories, put together well after the languages they define. The roots of language are irrational and of a magical nature."

Major English dictionaries



Relevant literature

  • Manual of Specialised Lexicography, Henning Bergenholtz/Sven Tarp (eds.), Benjamins Publishing, 1995
  • Diction and Stylistics of the 21st century, Darwin, Charles Schickelgruber Maxis (ed.), Jackson Publishing, 2001
  • The Bilingual LSP Dictionary, Sandro Nielsen, Gunter Narr Verlag 1994
  • Dictionaries, The Art and Craft of Lexicography, Sidney I. Landau, Simon & Schuster, 1998, hardcover, ISBN 0-684-18096-0
  • The Professor and the Madman, A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, Simon Winchester, HarperPerennial, New York, 1998, trade paperback, ISBN 0-06-017596-6. (published in the UK as The Surgeon of Crowthorne)

External links

dictionaries in Afrikaans: Woordeboek
dictionaries in Arabic: قاموس
dictionaries in Asturian: Diccionariu
dictionaries in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Слоўнік
dictionaries in Breton: Geriadur
dictionaries in Bulgarian: Речник
dictionaries in Catalan: Diccionari
dictionaries in Chuvash: Словарь
dictionaries in Czech: Slovník
dictionaries in Welsh: Geiriadur
dictionaries in Danish: Ordbog
dictionaries in German: Wörterbuch
dictionaries in Modern Greek (1453-): Λεξικό
dictionaries in Spanish: Diccionario
dictionaries in Esperanto: Vortaro
dictionaries in Basque: Hiztegi
dictionaries in French: Dictionnaire
dictionaries in Galician: Dicionario
dictionaries in Korean: 사전
dictionaries in Hindi: शब्दकोश
dictionaries in Croatian: Rječnik
dictionaries in Ido: Vorto-libro
dictionaries in Indonesian: Kamus
dictionaries in Inuktitut: ᕿᒥᕐᕈᐊᑦ ᐅᓐᓂᖅᑐᖅ ᒥᑦᓯ ᑐᑭᐊ/qimirruat unniqtuq mitsi tukia
dictionaries in Icelandic: Orðabók
dictionaries in Italian: Dizionario
dictionaries in Hebrew: מילון
dictionaries in Javanese: Bausastra
dictionaries in Kashubian: Słowôrz
dictionaries in Kurdish: Ferheng
dictionaries in Latin: Lexicon
dictionaries in Latvian: Vārdnīca
dictionaries in Lithuanian: Žodynas
dictionaries in Ligurian: Dizionario
dictionaries in Hungarian: Szótár
dictionaries in Malagasy: Rakibolana
dictionaries in Malay (macrolanguage): Kamus
dictionaries in Dutch: Woordenboek
dictionaries in Japanese: 辞典
dictionaries in Neapolitan: Dezziunario
dictionaries in Norwegian: Ordbok
dictionaries in Norwegian Nynorsk: Ordbok
dictionaries in Narom: Dictionnaithe
dictionaries in Occitan (post 1500): Diccionari
dictionaries in Polish: Słownik
dictionaries in Portuguese: Dicionário
dictionaries in Romanian: Dicţionar
dictionaries in Romansh: Pledari
dictionaries in Quechua: Simi qullqa
dictionaries in Russian: Словарь
dictionaries in Scots: Dictionar
dictionaries in Sicilian: Dizziunariu
dictionaries in Sinhala: ශබ්ද කෝෂය
dictionaries in Simple English: Dictionary
dictionaries in Slovak: Slovník
dictionaries in Slovenian: Slovar
dictionaries in Finnish: Sanakirja
dictionaries in Swedish: Ordbok
dictionaries in Tagalog: Talahuluganan
dictionaries in Tamil: அகராதி
dictionaries in Telugu: నిఘంటువు
dictionaries in Thai: พจนานุกรม
dictionaries in Vietnamese: Từ điển
dictionaries in Tajik: Луғат
dictionaries in Turkish: Sözlük
dictionaries in Ukrainian: Словник
dictionaries in Võro: Sõnaraamat
dictionaries in Walloon: Motî
dictionaries in Yiddish: ווערטערבוך
dictionaries in Chinese: 詞典
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