Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

Now that the rewriting and editing process has started, it was high time for new dictionary. The dictionary that came with the laptop (MacBook Pro running OS 10.10.5) is good, but I wanted another one for a second opinion. I also wanted a reference dictionary to keep spellings and hyphenations consistent. Hyphenation is rapidly evolving: it’s no longer ice-cream but ice cream. And not bumble-bee but bumblebee. Hyphenation is like a double-breasted suit: out of fashion. As the stock dictionary is The New Oxford American Dictionary and I use British spellings, I was also looking for a specifically British dictionary. I thought about getting a physical dictionary, but if a suitable app could be found, that would be preferable. In the 90s and even 2000s the reference dictionaries were always physical. I was hoping that in the 2010s that has changed. It has: the search led to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

The app was downloaded from the Apple app store for $28.99 CAD. This is the sixth edition, version 2.4, Oxford copyright 2007, updated February 28, 2015. It must be licensed out to WordWebSoftware, who put it together and copyrighted the software part of it in 2011. I wonder why Oxford couldn’t do it in house?

Here’s the online blurb from the Apple App Store:


The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary contains an incredible one-third of the coverage of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary and includes all words in current English from 1700 to the present day, plus the vocabulary of Shakespeare, the Bible and other major works in English from before 1700.

With new coverage of global English, as well as slang, dialect, technical, historical, and literary terms, and rare and obsolete words, the Sixth Edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary contains more than 600,000 words, phrases, and definitions, with coverage of language from the entire English-speaking world, from North America and the UK to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and the Caribbean. It has been fully updated with 2,500 new words and meanings based on ongoing research at Oxford Dictionaries and the Oxford English Corpus.

This is a mobile dictionary with content from Oxford University Press and advanced search and language tools that have become the staple of quality language apps from MobiSystems.

SEARCH TOOLS – effortlessly find words using a clear, functional, and easy-to-use interface. The integrated search tools activate automatically the moment you start typing:
* Search autocomplete helps find words quickly by displaying predictions as you type
* Keyword lookup allows you to search within compound words and phrases
* An automatic ‘Fuzzy filter’ to correct word spelling, as well as ‘Wild card’ (‘*’ or ‘?’) to replace a letter or entire parts of a word
* Camera search looks up words in the camera viewfinder and displays results

LEARNING TOOLS – engaging features that help you further enhance your vocabulary:
* ‘Favorites’ feature to create custom folders with lists of words from the extensive library
* ‘Recent’ list to help you easily review looked-up words
* ‘Word of the day’ section to help expand your vocabulary every day

Sounds good! Now, you may be asking: why not just get the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary (OED)? Well, is selling the 20 volume set for $1447.04. That’s the 1989 edition. It must weigh a ton. And to get the latest (i.e. what’s happened between 1989 and 2015), you have to get all the supplemental volumes. No thanks. But doesn’t the OED come in an app? Not that I can find. There’s a cd-rom version for $295 USD (about $375 CAD). Most of the links to it from Oxford’s own site are broken. The cd-rom version apparently is designed for Macs with a PowerPC processor. Those are the Macs from 10+ years ago! Not about to drop $375 for a dictionary that probably won’t work and doesn’t appear to be supported. It surprises me that Oxford would even continue to sell such stone age software.

That’s sort of disappointing the unabridged OED isn’t available for download. I was prepared to pay up to $200 for it. You can subscribe to the online version for $295 USD a year. This seems like a ripoff. And you have to be online to use it, which is a turn off. At any rate, the Greater Victoria Public Library subscribes to it and you can access it FOR FREE by logging in with your library card. But you still have to be online and it would be a pain to login each time you wanted to look up a word. Imagine! Sheesh!

So, because the unabridged is too hard to access, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is the next best thing. At 600,000 words, the word-count is almost double the 350,000 words in the New Oxford American Dictionary, the dictionary which comes stock with my computer.

Shorter Oxford English Dictionary Versus Stock Dictionary

Let’s go head to head. Here’s works I’ve actually been using whilst writing Paying Melpomene’s Price.

Here’s aporia in the stock dictionary:

aporia |əˈpôrēənoun an irresolvable internal contradiction or logical disjunction in a text, argument, or theory: the celebrated aporia whereby a Cretan declares all Cretans to be liars.• Rhetoric the expression of doubt.ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: via late Latin from Greek, from aporos impassable, from a- without + poros passage.

And here’s the same word in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary:

aporia əˈpɔ:rɪə , əˈpɒrɪə noun. m16.

  • 1Rhetoric. The expression of doubt. m16.
  • 2 A doubtful matter, a perplexing difficulty. l19.
ORIGIN: Late Latin from Greek, from aporos impassable, from a- 10 + poros: see aporetic , -ia 1.
I almost find the stock dictionary better! One nice thing about the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary are the pronunciations: press on a button and it says the word out loud.
The next word is Capitoline. That word is not in the stock dictionary. But here’s the entry from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary:
Capitoline kəˈpɪtəlʌɪn adjective designating or pertaining to the hill at Rome on which the Capitol stood ; of or pertaining to the Capitol: e17.
Let’s see how they deal with the proper name Melpomene. The stock dictionary has:
Melpomene |melˈpämənēGreek & Roman Mythologythe Muse of tragedy.ORIGIN Greek, literally singer.
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t have an entry for Melpomene, only ‘melpomenish’:

melpomenish mɛlˈpɒmɪnɪʃ adjective. literary. rare. e19.


ORIGIN: from Greek Melpomenē (lit. ‘singer’) the Muse of tragedy + -ish 1.

Shouldn’t it have Melpomene if the melpomenish entry refers back to the name?

Surprising: the stock dictionary outperforms and the Shorter Oxford in some ways underperforms expectation. It IS, however, nice to have both dictionaries. I’d make the same purchase again.

To sum up: The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is a good buy at $28.99. The sound files are a big plus for pronunciations. 600,000 words is plenty. Besides proper names, haven’t run across any words it doesn’t have. The interface does the trick. If you’re looking for an authoritative dictionary with British spellings, this is your ticket until the unabridged OED becomes available for download.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I don’t like to be a spelling slob whilst Doing Melpomene’s Work.

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