The 12th edition of Collins Dictionary was published last week, and I’ve now been able to have a good look at it (Collins kindly sent me a copy). I’ve always had a variety of dictionaries on my bookshelf, including a Collins, and I see that the one I’ve been using up to now is a 6th edition from 2003. That’s six editions in eleven years, which shows how quickly English is changing. The 11th edition came out in 2011.
This edition sees the inclusion of over 50,000 new words, including photobomb, which was also voted Word of the Year by Collins (it is defined as ‘to intrude into the background of a photograph without the subject's knowledge’), twerking: ‘a provocative dance performed by moving the hips rapidly back and forth while standing with the feet apart and raising and lowering the body in a squatting motion’, adorkable: ‘socially inept or unfashionable in a charming or endearing way’, al desko, described as ‘facetious’, defined as ‘(a meal, esp lunch) at one's desk at one's place of work’, and the phrase nuff said (can also be written ‘nuff said, with an apostrophe, according to Collins, and is short for ‘enough said’).
Not all the new words are brand new, gimmicky, or technology- or celebrity-related; for instance, there’s eyesome, tagged as ‘poetic’ and meaning ‘pleasing to the eye’, facundity, which although it has just gone into the dictionary, is described as ‘archaic’ (it means ‘the quality of eloquence), slumberland and slumbersome (‘the state or domain of sleep’ and ‘tired, sleepy’ respectively) and raconteuse, defined as ‘a female raconteur’ (raconteur was already in the dictionary with the definition ‘a person skilled in telling stories’). Some rarer words that have entered this edition are quonk (described as ‘not standard’) which is ‘an accidental noise picked up on a microphone while broadcasting’, and the Scots words noop, ‘the tip or point of the elbow’, and haffet, ‘the part of the side of the head or face that is to the front of and above the ear’.
The addition of all these new words mean that there are just under 200,000 entry words in total, and when you count all the derivatives, and words listed under main headwords the total jumps to over 720,000. The dictionary is no larger in dimensions than previous editions, indeed, it’s marginally smaller, and slightly lighter in weight, so how have all these new words been fitted in?
My old Collins (6th edition) has three columns per page and a fair amount of space between each headword. The latest edition has two columns per page, a smaller font (although it is clear and easy to read) and no additional spacing between entries. In older editions the words by-election (which Collins also spells as bye-election), bygone, byline, bylaw (or bye-law), bypass, byway and such words were all headwords ie appeared on a new line. In the latest edition they all appear under the entry ‘by’, which saves space, although it can be harder to find the word you want. The same thing happens at other words eg fast (fast food, fast-forward, fast lane etc) and social (socialism, socialist and socialize/socialise all appear under the ‘social’ entry).
Some words that have long existed have changed or extended their meaning, and this is reflected in the new Collins dictionary. In my old edition pimp as a verb was defined only as ‘to act as a pimp’ (in the sexual sense). The new meaning ‘to adapt or embellish in an ostentatious manner’, described as ‘slang’, is now given, along with the new verbs pimp up and pimp out.
Definitions in the dictionary are bang up to date. For instance, the entry Crimea has changed significantly. In my 2003 edition, the definition is:
A peninsula and autonomous region in the Ukraine between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov; a former autonomous republic of the Soviet Union (1921-45), part of the Ukrainian SSR from 1945 until 1991.
The definition of Crimea in the latest edition reads:
A peninsula between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, disputed between Ukraine and Russia: a former autonomous republic of the Soviet Union (1921-54), part of the Ukrainian SSR from 1954 until 1991; an autonomous republic of independent Ukraine (1991-2014); annexation by Russia in 2014 not recognized internationally. Capital: Simferopol.
The definition of Scotland begins ‘A country that is part of the United Kingdom’. Perhaps Collins had another definition ready and waiting in case the referendum went the other way.
So, do you need to buy the latest edition of a dictionary? It really depends on what you use your dictionary for. If you just want to check unfamiliar words when reading 18th-century literature, for instance, or check whether broccoli has two Cs, then no, there’s no need to rush to buy every new edition as it is published. However, if you are a competitive puzzle or crossword doer, or Scrabble player, then you will need to keep up with the latest words and most up-to-date spellings (the spelling of words can change over time, sometimes over a very short time). Many crosswords or word puzzles specify a dictionary to be used, and that’s the one you should buy. I would say that it’s a good idea to buy an up-to-date dictionary every ten years or thereabouts to keep up to date with words for technological gizmos and such things that appear in ordinary newspaper articles.
Some people will no doubt tell me that they can check meanings of new words on the internet. True, but what the internet cannot do is offer the pleasure of browsing and getting sidetracked that dictionaries can. The new Collins dictionary is a jolly good read – open a page at random and you’ll find that something catches your eye. There’s an article at the beginning by Mark Forsyth, author of The Etymologicon and other language-related books, entitled The Joy of Dictionaries, and that’s an enjoyable read too.
It’s coming up to Christmas, so if you’re stuck for a present for someone, or if you’re making your own list of things you’d like Santa to bring you, do think about a decent-sized and recently published dictionary.