Behind the scenes

When writing for Talk Wordy to Me, I almost exclusively use dictionaries that I can find online; it's too time-consuming to type something from a print volume unless I can't find it anywhere else. I was happy to see somewhere the other day (sorry to whoever pointed it out, I can't remember to give you credit), that was being powered by Webster's New World College Dictionary. This is the dictionary most newspapers use -- I think largely because it's what the Associated Press Stylebook refers to for further information. It's a good dictionary, and it's a familiar one to me since I work at a newspaper.

It's also nice to have another source to look at while I'm writing here -- the more information, the better. Here's a glance at the tools I use here on a day-to-day basis:

  • My favorite online dictionary for clear entries and good etymologies is the American Heritage Dictionary, available via
  • For really detailed entries and etymologies, and for looking up obscure stuff, nothing beats the Oxford English Dictionary. I'm sincerely glad I have free access to it online through the Louisville Free Public Library. I couldn't afford the hundreds of dollars a year for an online subscription, or the more than a thousand dollars that the multivolume print edition costs.
  • Merriam-Webster Online doesn't figure into my posts as much, simply because I usually find better, more complete, or more interesting information in the other sources. But it sometimes has something the others don't.
  • On the other hand, while I haven't used it much, Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage is a fantastic source for long entries on questions of usage. When I have needed it, it's been great, and it's available (and searchable) on Google Books.
  • Though it's not available online, Garner's Modern American Usage is another great source of levelheaded usage guidance. I subscribe to Garner's Usage Tip of the Day, which sends the book one entry at a time via e-mail in alphabetical order. I am slowly building up an online archive of the book, which is useful as long as what I'm searching for has been covered.

Of all of these, I own print copies of the fourth edition of Webster's New World and the second edition of Garner's Modern American Usage. I love flipping through reference books, and I keep my New World nearby when I am reading. I'd like to own print versions of everything else I've mentioned, especially M-W's Dictionary of English Usage and the Fourth Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, which is huge, illustrated, and gorgeous. I'd also like the new edition of Garner's, for which I was a critical reader before it was published.

So many books, so little time (and money).