The long and short of words

AN exciting contest begins today and its aim is to make you appreciate the dictionary, which is often relegated to one corner of the bookshelf. Perhaps it's time we dust off the cover and take another look at this invaluable “friend” whom we turn to when we are stumped for words. 


Dictionaries – What there is to know 

Have you ever thought about the work of lexicographers – those who compile dictionaries? It's a time-consuming job, listing down thousands of words and their meanings, and arranging them alphabetically.  

Imagine what it must have been like 250 years ago for Dr Samuel Johnson who compiled the first English dictionary, The Dictionary of English Language. Published by Thomas Longman, the dictionary recorded the words and language used by the likes of Shakespeare and John Milton.  

In 1852, Longman published a reference book that organised words according to meaning rather than by alphabet. Roget's Thesaurus, still a leading title today, was compiled by Peter Mark Roget, one of the most brilliant men of his age. 

Modern-day lexicographers have it much easier with the use of computers. However, the purpose and value of their efforts are the same – to guarantee that the contents of dictionaries are the best they can possibly be. 


One dictionary doesn’t rule them all 

Unlike J.R.R. Tolkien’s one ring that rules all, it is vital for learners and teachers of English to use the right dictionary, because there is no one dictionary that meets every user's every need.  

Nick Dawson, an experienced teacher trainer who has conducted seminars worldwide, says it is important that at each stage of learning, students use an appropriate dictionary which is written in language they can understand and which contains the information they need. 

For example, the Longman Basic English Dictionary uses very simple definitions, complete with illustrations, to cater for students who have only just learned to search for words in alphabetical order.  

Students in lower secondary school may use the WordWise Dictionary, which provides explanations for 35,000 words and phrases. This dictionary highlights the 2,000 words most frequently used in English – words which a student at intermediate level needs to learn. 

A dictionary with elements of a thesaurus, the Longman Language Activator was published in 1993. This award-winning dictionary provides a solution for the student at Advanced level who has problems deciding whether to use “smile”, “grin”, or “leer”, or whether to write “laugh like a drain” or “laugh heartily” in an essay.  

A simplified version, the Longman Essential Activator, was later published to cater to intermediate or secondary school students.  


Digital dictionaries – To infinity and beyond 

In recent years, technological advancements have led to the appearance of more English language material on CD-ROM. Once again, Longman led the way by publishing the very first CD-ROM dictionary, the Longman Interactive Dictionary, followed by Zak’s Wordgames, an interactive word-learning game for children.  

These CD-ROMs enable learners to find the meanings of words in double quick time and to hear the correct pronunciations in British or American English.  

There are also video clips showing how words and phrases are used in the right contexts. 

Needless to say, those preparing for standard examinations like IELTS and TOEFL find these CD-ROMs an excellent help. 

An even more revolutionary format, the Longman Web Dictionary was published in 1999. This is downloadable from its website at . The concept is simple – click on a word or phrase in a website, and an instant definition pops up. Certainly a great help to Net-surfers. 

Older students will appreciate the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English 4 (LDOCE 4), which is touted as “the dictionary of the 21st century”. 

The main component of the LDOCE 4 is a dictionary in hardcopy and a CD-ROM containing all the words and their definitions. The CD-ROM is definitely value-for-money as it features three prominent Longman dictionaries - Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, Language Activator and extracts from the Longman’s Dictionary of English Language and Culture.  

With about one million actual examples, LDOCE 4 serves as a comprehensive reference that can help you speak and write effectively in English. 

You can check out the latest range of dictionaries at your nearest bookstore, or call 03-77820466, fax 03-77810085 or email:

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