by Colin McIntosh
The British dictionary tradition has differed from the American tradition in various ways, one of which is the treatment of words with a capital letter, like Brazil, Edinburgh, and John F. Kennedy.
British dictionaries traditionally made a distinction between content that was lexical and content that was encyclopedic. Lexical content (words, in other words) was the job of the dictionary, whereas encyclopedic content (countries, cities, dead white men) was the job of the encyclopedia. Nowadays, with the advent of search engines like Google, where all types of information are accessible, people tend not to distinguish between the two, and the internet is simply seen as one huge, amorphous source of information. This obviously has meant a big change in dictionary users’ expectations.
One enormous difference for dictionary makers in the digital age is that we can see what our users are looking up (or searching for, in the new parlance). When Samuel Johnson or James Murray published new dictionaries in past centuries, they had no idea if their users were looking up words they’d added, or if they were looking up words that hadn’t been included. Now we can run regular checks of “words searched for” and “words not found”. Continue reading “Look it up!”