By: Charles Bowen
As writers and editors, we’ve had a long relationship with dictionaries, one that usually pre-dates our journalistic careers. Remember trying to look up the “dirty words” in the junior high school library’s old dictionary? Or learning the secret language of etymology in college? And appreciating ever more the nuances of synonyms and antonyms as you started honing your craft in your professional life?
Of course, the arrival of the Web a decade ago shot dictionaries into cyberspace, making powerful linguistic tools available at the same keyboard at which the writing and editing was being done. One of the first Web sites I featured in this column when it began five years ago was the work of Robert Beard of Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University. His On-line Dictionaries linked to more than 400 searchable references in languages ranging from Afrikaans, Akkadian, Algerian, and Albanian to Vietnamese, Welsh, Yemba, and Yiddish. I remember being so impressed with how his site also had links to thesaurus pages and specialized dictionaries covering terms in business, science, education, and recreation. There were even dictionaries of “artificial” languages like Esperanto and of fictional languages from television’s “Star Trek.”
Now, as we start the Web’s second decade, Beard is back and better than ever. YourDictionary.com is the 21st century version of his original vision. It is probably the Web’s most comprehensive and authoritative portal for language, now with more than 1,800 dictionaries in more than 250 languages. No wonder more than 1.5 million people visit the site each month.
To use it, visit http://www.yourdictionary.com, where a busy but nicely organized homepage is topped with a search box that pulls up definitions. In the left-hand navigation bar are tools for:
* Dictionaries: Select from a pull-down menu to choose a language, ranging from English, Spanish, French, and German to Chinese, Russian, Korean, and more.
* Language courses: A drop-down menu here invites you to choose a language to study.
* Glossaries: Here the drop-down menu lets you select fields such as law, business, computers, and finance, as well as subjects like cooking, genealogy, and sports.
* ‘Nyms and such: This catch-all category has links to antonyms and synonyms, abbreviations, rhyming dictionaries, grammar guides, thesauruses, and more.
Other considerations for using Yourdictionary.com in your writing and editing:
1. Need a quick translation of a word? Another search box in the central panel of the introductory screen offers fast translation between English and French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Portuguese.
2. For students and teachers, the site also provides a useful collection of answers to frequently asked questions. Scroll the introductory screen to the FAQ section, where there are links to topics such as “100 most often misspelled words” and “100 most often mispronounced words.”
3. If you write about Yourdictionary.com in your news columns, you might want to mention the site’s “Game Room,” linked in the center panel of the main screen. Here you’ll find puzzles, crosswords, encryptions, word jumbles, and semantic scrambles. And the kids will like the “Write your name in 10 languages!” feature.
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