Some enlightening language links
Tim Oake presents nine free online resources for writers, editors and others with a passion for the English language.
As many, if not most, of our clients, partners and visitors share my personal and/or professional interest in the English language, Ive decided it was time to put together a list of websites dealing with the subject that I can recommend as useful, interesting and/or amusing. I put together a list of the first four as a blog post in the website category last July. Now Ive added another five for this new edition of Client & Partner Briefing.
The first is Dictionary.com, a free online dictionary search service from the Lexico Publishing Group. The site aggregates definitions from 21 dictionary sources. All you have to do is type a word into the search box at the top of the page, click the search button, and the site will search its sources and provide definitions. If youre unsure how a word is spelt, a mistaken guess will produce a list of suggested alternatives. You can also switch tabs from dictionary to thesaurus, encyclopedia, all reference and the web to search in other sources. I generally depend on our offices extensive reference book section when Im at my desk, but this elegantly designed site is particularly useful when Im on the road.
By no means are all my recommended sites online reference tools, however. My second recommendation is a particular personal favourite: Michael Quinions World Wide Words. It does have indexes and a search facility, but what I find most entertaining about Quinions site are his in-depth articles on fascinating subjects to do with words and English usage. Many of these first appear in the sites companion newsletter, which I also recommend.
A similarly interesting source is a group blog established by Mark Liberman, a Professor of Phonetics in the Dept. of Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, called Language Log. Like Quinions site, one of the blogs key topics of interest is how the English language is changing. As is appropriate for the blog format, there are many personal observations and critiques. Liberman and others have recently posted a number of fascinating comments on examples of malnegations, overnegations and undernegations, and on the declining professionalism of BBC news journalists a view with which I have a good deal of sympathy.
The first of the new additions to this list is Douglas Harpers online etymological dictionary. He says he began the project after he had looked for a free and comprehensive dictionary of word origins online and found that there was none. While its unclear whether its still being updated, Etymonline.com still fulfils that function admirably.
A site that can be used both as a reference resource and just for occasional browsing amusement is Word Spy. This one was launched by in 1996 by technical writer Paul McFedries and is still regularly updated. As McFedries specializes in books for Windows users, I guess he uses working on the site for stress relief. Joking apart, its an entertaining and useful collection of recently coined words and phrases. It carefully lists citations, and only includes entries if they have already appeared multiple times in print or online. Latest additions appear on the homepage, and you can search by word, subject and archive. The site also has an extensive collection of searchable quotations on the subject of words and their use.
Named after Herman Melville's short story Bartleby the Scrivener, Bartleby.com was founded as Project Bartleby in January 1993 by Steven van Leeuwen as a personal, non-profit collection of classic literature on the website of Columbia University. Within its first year it had already published an online version of Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitmans anthology of poetry. In 1997 it moved to its own domain, bartleby.com, and now focuses on reference works. Like everything else in the collection, all Bartlebys online reference resources can be accessed for free, and include the American Heritage Dictionary, Thesauri and various collections of quotations. It also has complete online versions a number of classic works on language usage, notably including H. W. Fowlers The Kings English and William Strunk Jr.s The Elements of Style.
Like most of these sites, Internet.coms Webopedia isnt likely to win a design award anytime soon, but its a great resource if youre looking for definitions of computer and Internet technology terms. It has a simple engine for searching either by the word itself or via a list of categories.
My last recommendation isnt a reference resource, but the opinionated observations of Bill Walsh, Copy Editor of The Washington Post. Like World Wide Words and Language Log. The Slot is great fun to browse. I especially like the blog and sharp points.
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