Disappearing Dictionaries?

An article in today's Wall Street Journal queries whether we still need dictionaries in the age of Google. Like encyclopedias, the idea of the print dictionary is quaint and bulky, but are online dictionaries just as passe? Online dictionaries have stepped in to provide more up to date definitions and use-in-context examples; however, these may not be an improvement over Google's mental monolith.

"Of course, there is plenty that dictionaries still do well. Online dictionaries provide most of the definition links that pop up in Google. Dictionaries are still good for obscure usages and etymologies. Dictionaries also can arbitrate disputes that arise during a game of Scrabble or late-night conversations.
But dictionaries have also failed us in many ways. They infuriate word sticklers by presenting a variety of usages and leaving the reader to decide which is correct. Dictionaries fail to update meanings often enough. And due to space constraints in the print editions, many dictionary definitions are so concise as to be unhelpful. Ever run into a definition like this one for calumnious: "of, involving, or using calumny'?"

Perhaps, though, dictionaries just need to change with the times, to update themselves to be more relevant. Or, has Google improved upon this system so that much that dictionaries - either online or in print - are no longer helpful?


  1. I don't think online dictionaries are passe at all. If I want a brief description of what the word means, I stick it into Google. But usually, I'll want to confirm that I understood all the meanings of the word. I want to see synonyms and antonyms, the etymology and every possible definition. Not just Google's occasional brisk line or its links elsewhere.


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