Questions to Ask Yourself When Using The Century Dictionary Online
- Are you looking for lexical or encyclopedic information?
- Are you looking in the supplementary volumes as well as the first editions?
- What can I find here and what can I not find here?
Dictionaries often include both lexical and encyclopedic material, but
they differ in the way such information is treated. It is useful, before
beginning to search in a dictionary, to determine what sort of information
you are trying to find.
Lexical material may be defined as
information about words, including spelling forms, pronunciation, etymologies
or word origins, sense definitions, synonym explanations, descriptive
or linguistic notes, and illustrative quotations or examples of use.
Lexical material generally excludes proper names (except in forms where such
names have come to be used as independent words - e.g.,
Jeffersonian or Darwinism),
biographical data, descriptions of historical events, geographical or
political entities, and works of art or literature. Thus, the words
Washingtonian will usually be treated as dictionary entries but
not the name Washington itself.
Encyclopedic material may often include information about pronunciation or
even etymology, but its main emphasis is typically extra-linguistic. An
encyclopedia will usually have an article about Darwin, the man,
or even about his individual works. An encyclopedia will include articles
about historical events, place-names, political or cultural institutions,
geographical entities, nationalities or tribes, myths, etc., none of which
could properly be considered in purely linguistic terms.
Some dictionaries, like those in
the Merriam-Webster series, include both lexical and encyclopedic information
in the same alphabetical range. Others, such as the Oxford English Dictionary, exclude
encyclopedic information altogether, except where it is necessary as part of
an etymology or a note. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia includes
both types of information, but keeps them separate. The dictionary proper
limits itself, like the Oxford English Dictionary, to lexical information. Encyclopedic
materials, of the kinds enumerated above, are treated in the volumes of the
cyclopedia. Thus, if you want to find information about the Native
American tribe known as the Apaches, you will be disappointed looking
in the dictionary volumes, where you will find only Apache-plume and
Apache blue-grass defined. The cyclopedia, however, has a sizeable
descriptive article about the tribe itself, including pronunciation and
etymological information. If you look up Actæon (search it as
"actaeon" in spite of the ae ligature) in the dictionary, you will find some
information about the mythological hunter in the etymology. You will also discover that its
lexical interest is as the common name of two kinds of mollusks. If you look
in the cyclopedia, however, you will find an article devoted to the
Actæon of mythological fame.
One often hears it quipped that dictionaries and encyclopedias are already
obsolete the moment they go to press. Languages, like events, are constantly
changing, and all reference works must set limits and have a cut-off point
if they are ever to be published. This is especially true of large-scale
dictionaries, which cannot undergo complete, integrated revisions on a
short-term schedule. Dictionary editors are well aware of this
short-coming, and often begin working on supplements before a main edition
actually appears. The Oxford English Dictionary editors, for instance, were already at work
on the one volume 1933 supplement when the main dictionary was published in
1928. It was followed by four more supplementary volumes before the
integrated 2nd edition came out in 1989, by which time new "Additions" volumes
were already in preparation. Merriam-Webster typically included supplementary
entries in its interim printings of the major editions, either as "footers"
running along the bottoms of the pages or in supplementary sections or volumes.
The Century Dictionary Online comprises four complete alphabetical
ranges: the first edition dictionary in volumes I to VIII, the first edition
cyclopedia in volumes IX and X, the dictionary supplement in volumes XI and
most of XII, and the cyclopedia supplement at the end of volume XII. The world
atlas appears after the first edition cyclopedia at the end of volume X.
When looking something up in any dictionary or encyclopedia that includes
supplementary material, it is important to check all the available alphabetical
ranges. This is why the "Find Entry" function of The Century Dictionary
Online presents pages from both the first edition and the dictionary
supplement by default and optionally allows all four ranges to be searched at once.
The supplements typically include new words or senses that came to
light and were drafted after the first edition was complete, but may also
include extensions of earlier entries (e.g., the entry for malaria)
based on newly discovered information, the addition of death dates in
biographical entries, etc. Though last published in 1914, the Century
Dictionary Supplement was remarkably up to date for its time and included
many terms that were not drafted for the Oxford English Dictionary Supplement until the
1970's. Words of more recent origin, of course, cannot be found, but a great
many terms in fields such as telephony, aeronautics, and the automotive
industry that were very productive in the period between the first edition
and the supplement can be found defined according to the usual, high
standards of The Century Dictionary in the later volumes.
The Century Dictionary defines more words and senses than most other
English dictionaries, and more than any other dictionary freely available
online, but there are a number of limitations that you should bear in mind.
It does not include words that originated later than the early Twentieth
Century. Just what these words are is not as obvious as it might seem at first.
A number of seemingly very modern scientific terms, for instance, are actually
extensions of recognizable, older senses that are covered in The Century
Dictionary. On the other hand, a word like hacek, that one might
think goes back at least as far as the Grimms, is actually a recent linguistic
term originating in the 1950's and thus much too late for inclusion here.
Some areas, of course, are obvious: The Century Dictionary does not include terms from the post
World War I political movements, such as Fascism, Bolshevism, Nazism, etc. It
does not include terms specific to technologies, such as television, that were
invented in the 1920's or later. It does not include slang terms that
originated later than the early Twentieth Century. It does not include
biographies of people who were not already well known by the early Twentieth
Century, nor does it have death dates for those who died after the last
publication. The maps in the world atlas reflect the pre World War era. If what
you are trying to find belongs in one of these categories, you need to look in
some other source.
It does include very full, rich coverage of the core vocabulary of
English, that is, all the common and uncommon words, current and obsolete, of the language in general.
It includes relatively advanced coverage of many technical fields, such as telephony, with
origins at least in the Nineteenth Century. It includes remarkably detailed
coverage of the biological and other sciences that were already "mature" at
the time of publication, as well as
such specialized fields as agriculture, architecture, clothing, armory, and the building trades. It includes
richly detailed coverage of nautical, philosophical, theological, legal,
literary, and linguistic terms. It includes deep and serious coverage of terms
of American origin. It includes excellent American pronunciations of
words throughout the vocabulary using a clear and consistent form of
phonetical representation. It includes a rich set of biographical and other
encyclopedic material on all periods from ancient times to the early Twentieth
Century. Its excellent coverage of the classical, medieval, and renaissance periods is
noteworthy, but its "weightedness" in the then recent Nineteenth Century makes
it an especially useful resource for scholars of that period.
To give you a better idea of how special The Century Dictionary is
and how it compares with other popular dictionaries, see our
Comparison of Unabridged Dictionaries.