Here are my latest Crossword-related reviews. I don't care much about how old a product is: if I make use of it, I write about it. There's not a lot of technical info here, just how useful a product might be for setters and solvers. Check out the publishers' websites for technical info and upcoming releases etc.
Collins Australian Dictionary, 7th Edition released by Harper Collins
It wasn't all that long ago I wrote a review of the Collins Australian Dictionary, 5th Edition. So here we are, already at the 7th. One might ask why new editions keep coming out on a (more than) regular basis. It could be that the cost of producing dictionaries isn't as expensive as it used to be; or maybe that other dictionary makers are churning them out too; or perhaps our language is changing at such a rate as to necessitate its documentation. I suspect it's a combination of these elements, and I must say, as a crossword setter, I love getting my hands on a new dictionary. If only the new words were marked somehow so I could add them to my wordlists!
In the case of this dictionary, Collins has used its internet-based Collins Word Exchange for the first time to supplement its additions. This means that people like us may have directly influenced the content of the Collins Australian Dictionary, 7th Edition. Input of ordinary people has led to words being considered for inclusion. There's a supplement that lists some of the words deemed worthy of mention, but not worthy of inclusion. One word, "cakeage", reportedly of Australian origin, is included in the supplement but not the main body of text. Surely this is just the type of word that should be in the Australian Collins Dictionary? What better way to make a dictionary unique?
As with all single-volume dictionaries, the trick is to add words while keeping the text readable and the bulk manageable. So what's Collins done in the 7th that different from its predecessors? When comparing the 5th and 7th editions I see a notable change in the layout of each entry. The 7th has a slightly smaller but more compact font (not better); the main body of the text for each entry is indented from the headword leaving more space between columns (not better); numbered sub-entries are no longer boxed (better); word forms (eg NOUN, VERB) are abbreviated rather than spelt out in full (better); a different word form is indicated by a clear triangle rather than a solid diamond (not better); history now follows straight on in brackets rather than being directly indicated (neutral). One thing that has been added that I really like is a big letter printed in the outside margin that marks the page's position in the alphabet. It's the poor-man's thumb-index, but still very useful. I can see that a number of things have been done to create space, but overall the layout could be a little better.
I always like references with unique Australian content because in general editors of Australian publications like Australian content in their wordpuzzles. It would be great if the unique Australian stuff was indicated in some way, but that would be too much to ask. Like many dictionary-lovers, I'm mystified by Collins' continued insistence on not including biographical entries in this dictionary - surely a few prominent Australians and landmarks (instead of obscure French towns, for example) would add to the Australianness of this publication? I realise something had to go to make way for an ever-expanding language base, but I think Collins could have taken a different tack especially with their regional publications.
There appears to be no electronic version of this dictionary available yet, which is a shame. Personally, I think all new modern references should come in both forms since computers are such a big part of people's work and home life and most students do their homework in front of a computer.
Collins has always had good, sensible coverage and with the inclusion of Word Exchange words, it's probably as good as ever this time round. I'd love to see the biographical stuff put back in (where did it go? Can you get a Collins Biographical Dictionary?) and a little more emphasis on the Australian content and less on entry layout. As a reference for setting and solving crosswords and wordpuzzles, it certainly satisfies most needs. This edition is definitely recommended.
WordGenius is a software interface that has been released with a number of different Macquarie reference books and, more recently, the Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary. The Macquarie Thesaurus and Concise Dictionary are also available with a WordGenius interface, but I'm yet to review these products.
Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary - WordGenius, 2nd edition released by Eurofield Information Solutions and available from the WordGenius websiteIf you ever wanted proof that WordGenius is a good product, then here it is. The great American publisher Random House has given an Australian company the right to create a WordGenius version of their famous unabridged dictionary. It's easy to see why. The Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary is a massive work, and would challenge any developer who wanted to build a quick and richly-featured interface to access it. All the usual WordGenius features are here: lightning fast search facility, (virtually) endless search capabilities, multiple viewing options, instant access from crossword programs like Crossword Compiler, and the trademark "drag-on" service.
For me there are two important elements when it comes to choosing electronic references: Is the content of the reference worth having in the first place and, does the interface that brings the content to life do it justice? Some electronic references have great content, but have restrictions like not being able to fully load it onto a drive, stopping the standard cut & paste facility from working, or limited search options. IMO, if you can't use a reference easily, then it's not worth having no matter who publishes it.
I've already established that the WordGenius interface is simple-looking yet extremely powerful, so what about the content? Random House Webster's has only been in the dictionary publishing business for 50 years, but I see that as a plus rather than as a negative. Random House Webster's was able to create its dictionary from a relatively modern pool of words. Older dictionary publishers carry much baggage: some find it hard to remove any words, making some content obsolete and of no use to the average dictionary owner. The Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, while being large and comprehensive, has what I would call "sensible" content - the most useful to the crossword setter and solver.
The Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary has a similar layout to the Macquarie dictionary, with separate entries listed for words that might be found under the one headword in other dictionaries. Terms and phrases are listed under their related headword entry. Personally I like this kind of layout as you know exactly where to look for any given word, term or phrase. People and places are also represented and I was surprised by the amount of Australian content.
With the Australian language succumbing more and more to the influences of American English, it's important to have a good American dictionary on hand. The WordGenius Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary is a quality product that now sits alongside my Macquarie, Chambers, Collins and Oxford dictionaries to assist me with my work.
Macquarie Dictionary - WordGenius, V3.5.3 July 2004 released by Eurofield Information Solutions and available from the WordGenius website
Since I first started compiling crosswords I've been very aware of the need to have a comprehensive Australian reference by my side. It's nice to have a physical book, but an electronic version is a must for any serious (modern) solver or setter. I've got three versions of the Macquarie Dictionary in electronic from: One based on the 2nd edition (which I still quite like), one based on the 3rd edition (which I would never use), and Macquarie Dictionary - WordGenius, which is based on the revised 3rd edition.
Proof of the pudding is in the continued use over an extended period, but I'd like to give you my early findings.
The main window has a very simple layout with standard menu items (File, Edit, View and Help) and icons that represent the most-used functions. There are two entry fields, Headword and Definition, and one content window that shows the results of any search. The content window can be viewed in various ways depending on your preference. Single entries can be viewed in isolation or with other entries around it, or the multiple results of a search can be viewed as headwords only or with their definitions.
The biggest plus of this software is its unlimited searching facility. The standard "*" (unlimited characters) and "?" (single character) wildcard place-holders are supported in any position (and combination) in a string, even at the beginning. Boolean operators (&,AND), (|,or) and even parentheses are supported as well. Now, if you combine the wildcard search with the Boolean operators, you can see how searching the whole dictionary for something quite general or specific is quite easy to do. But it doesn't end there! The two entry windows, Headword and Definition, will both cope with any search combination at the same time. Therefore you can, for instance, find every Australian plant that begins with "a" or "s" in one search. Despite the version of the Macquarie being unabridged, the search time is very quick. Finding that elusive answer to a clue would be a doddle with this software.
A feature of this software which I haven't seen elsewhere is the "drag-on" facility. Basically you can highlight and drag and drop any word from any Windows app onto a desktop icon, and this simulates switching to the dictionary, typing the word into the Headword box, and pressing ENTER. Neat.
Have I found anything I don't like? Yes, a couple of minor things. I haven't quite got the hang of switching between views. There are a number of combinations of buttons that give different views, but I always seem to hit the wrong one. I'm sure with more use I'll get better at it. Also, I'd like to know how many entries my search found just to understand the scope of the results.
As you all know by now, I always look to see whether a dictionary program is receptive to look-up by crossword compiling software. As a setter, it's important for me to gain access with minimal clicks as I might look up five or six separate references for each clue. While the drag and drop method is fairly fast, the ideal would be direct look-up. Initially I didn't think this could be done (as the standard method didn't work), but a quick read of the WordGenius help on keyboard shortcuts provided the answer.
So, what's my overall assessment? This is great software. Simple interface, unbelievable search facilities, quick access to the full Macquarie and accessible from popular crossword compiling programs. Suitable for both solvers and setters.
Australian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd Edition, 2004 released by Oxford University Press
Oxford University Press (OUP) have made a big investment in Australia and Australian English. At the Australian National Dictionary Centre in Canberra, Bruce Moore and his team are continually expanding their databases containing comprehensive information on words used in Australia, old and new. The result is the publication of the second edition of The Australian Oxford Dictionary (AOD), 5 years after the debut of the first edition.
The biggest problem (as I see it) for dictionary compilers is what to leave out. To make a book single volume, liftable and comprehensive all at once is no mean feat. With what seems to be an expanding number of new words and terms being added to our everyday usage (this new edition alone has 10,000 new lexical items, almost 10% of the entire book), something's got to give, whether its the obsolete or archaic words and definitions, foreign terms that have gone out of fashion, or expansive definitions that take up too much space.
Thankfully the people at OUP seem to have got it just right, with one exception. There's a great deal of Australian content, places, historical events, political parties and fictional characters. Personally I think I'd prefer to have an entry for "Menzies, Robert" rather "Robinson Crusoe" in an Australian Dictionary, but obviously the choice has been made to leave out all prominent people (although Ned Kelly, curiously, gets a mention) from across the globe, probably due extra space that would be required.
Short note: In comparing the first and second editions, I noticed some space-saving techniques. The font in the new edition is a smidgen smaller, saving a couple of characters per line. The second device was to leave out pronunciations made up of words for which pronunciations exist elsewhere in the dictionary. For example, "bluebell" in the first edition comes with a representation of the pronunciation, whereas it's missing from the second edition. I'm sure there are other space-savers.
The AOD has separate entries (headwords) for words that are complete words, even if they are derived from a base word. "Bluebell" for example, has its own entry unlike some dictionaries where it's listed under "blue". This takes up extra space but does make finding entries easier. As with most OUP publications, there's an emphasis on the historical and current usage of words, with lots of contextual examples. OUP seem to be learning that readers (especially ones who do crosswords) want more than a proper definition - they also want a couple of useful synonyms where appropriate. OUP have got better in this regard over the years.
Special attention has been paid to Australian culture and history, including Aboriginal history. There's a series of standard and interesting appendices, including ones on locations of Australian Aboriginal languages, collective nouns, and English in electronic communication that lists some common emoticons.
My only gripe isn't with the dictionary itself, but with OUP. I'm a proud owner of the first edition of The Australian Oxford Dictionary, both in printed form and on the computer that I use via the iFinger interface. It appears (from the enquiries I've made) that there won't be a second edition release of the AOD for iFinger. This surprises me greatly as the whole point of an interface like iFinger is to minimise the cost of providing new books by only having to supply the dictionary itself. The cost is mainly in the development and maintenance of the interface, which has been established for a number of years now. Maybe OUP can explain why the second edition won't be available through iFinger? As a crossword compiler I rely on electronic references and it irks me that my access is limited to an out-of-date AOD.
However, overall The Australian Oxford Dictionary (second edition) is a worthy successor to the groundbreaking first edition. With 10,000 new word and phrases it's definitely up-to-date, and its coverage of everyday Australian language is almost on par with that of the Macquarie. How useful is it to the crossword solver and setter? Dictionaries with a good overall coverage are always useful, especially if it includes terms that Australians hear in the local media, down the shops or at dinner parties.
This dictionary will certainly be kept within reach on the desk of this Australian crossword setter.
Anyone with comments on these mini reviews or with information on later editions of the books, please .
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