Mighty Red Pen

June 10, 2010

When thesauruses roamed the Earth

Filed under: Lit review — mighty red pen @ 7:18 pm
Tags: ,

My colleagues and I were discussing those book prizes that colleges and universities give to high school students. One colleague, who recently attended one of these ceremonies at his child’s high school where such book prizes are awarded, said that many of the books were dictionaries or thesauruses. This led to a discussion: In this day and age, when you can look definitions up on the Internet or use the dictionary/synonym finder built into your word-processing program, are hard copies of these types of reference books irrelevant?

I use my hard copy of the American Heritage Dictionary regularly, but my colleagues all felt there wasn’t much need for hard copy reference books. What do you think?

Hat tip to the Mighty Quinn (no relation to MRP) for this little tidbit, found here.



  1. My senior year in high school I was chosen as “English Student of the Year” for the entire school. The prize was a brand new, hardbound copy of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary with my name, the date, and the reason for my receiving it inscribed on the first page. It was presented to me by the school’s most difficult, and my absolute favorite, English teacher. I have kept, and used, that dictionary for 15 years, and I plan to keep and use it for as long as the binding is intact. It is one of my most treasured possessions.

    During my own brief stint as a high school English teacher, I purchased pocket dictionaries for all of my students.

    Comment by Stacie — June 10, 2010 @ 11:11 pm | Reply

  2. Not all dictionaries are equal. Not all online sources are reliable.

    Comment by goofy — June 11, 2010 @ 9:48 am | Reply

  3. goofy is right. What goofy does not mention, however, is that some online sources are better than some dictionaries, especially when you compare an online dictionary’s coverage of obscure words with the coverage of an abridged print dictionary.

    Comment by Chris Barts — June 12, 2010 @ 8:56 pm | Reply

  4. When I “graduated” from sixth grade on my way to junior high school (this was back in the sixties, before there were middle schools), a family friend gave me a hardbound copy of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. I still have that book, somewhere in the house. Back then, the binding was blue, not the red of my current love, Web-11.

    And while I often go to merriamwebster.com to look up words or find synonyms, just as often, I’ll grab my Web-11 to look up a word. And then I’ll probably spend a quarter- to half an hour exploring nearby words—not something easily done with online resources. And if I’m researching a question of usage, my first option is always M-W’s Usage Dictionary, before I log into CMoS online.

    Comment by Steve - Kestrel's Aerie — June 22, 2010 @ 11:44 am | Reply

  5. Is Fowler even online? One sincerely hopes that it would be the case that this gentleman of refinement would be spared the ignominy of having his genius reduced to mere electrons speeding hither and thither without the least grace. And if Fowler is, indeed, not online, then there can be no question but that one must have at least one hard-copy and hard-scrabble reference work.

    Comment by David — June 23, 2010 @ 12:14 am | Reply

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