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no. 8
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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, I’ve 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 I’ve 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 you’re 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 office’s extensive reference book section when I’m at my desk, but this elegantly designed site is particularly useful when I’m on the road.

World Wide Words

By no means are all my recommended sites online reference tools, however. My second recommendation is a particular personal favourite: Michael Quinion’s ‘World Wide Words’. It does have indexes and a search facility, but what I find most entertaining about Quinion’s site are his in-depth articles on fascinating subjects to do with words and English usage. Many of these first appear in the site’s companion newsletter, which I also recommend.

Language Log

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 Quinion’s site, one of the blog’s 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 last of the recommendations I made last summer was Acronym Finder, published by Mountain Data Systems. Considering the growing alphabet soup of acronyms and abbreviations that corporate communicators have to deal with, it’s perhaps no wonder that it receives over a million unique visitors each month, many of whom also accept its invitation to contribute new listings. The site launched with around 43,000 entries, but it now has over half a million terms and is growing at the rate of about 200 new entries a day. It recently celebrated its tenth birthday online, it’s been the recipient of many awards and is one of Writer’s Digest ‘Best Websites for Writers’.


The first of the new additions to this list is Douglas Harper’s 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 it’s unclear whether it’s 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, it’s 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 Whitman’s 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 Bartleby’s 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. Fowler’s ‘The King’s English’ and William Strunk Jr.’s ‘The Elements of Style’.


Like most of these sites, Internet.com’s ‘Webopedia’ isn’t likely to win a design award anytime soon, but it’s a great resource if you’re 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.

The Slot

My last recommendation isn’t 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’.

In the seventh Client & Partner Briefing we examined two excellent examples of viral marketing, World Cup style.

The sixth Client & Partner Briefing questioned the value of top-level domain real estate on the Internet.

The fifth Client & Partner Briefing argued that propaganda was replacing informed and informative PR in the European technology patents debate.

Our fourth Client & Partner Briefing looked at the communication of corporate citizenship - the value in values.

In the third Client & Partner Briefing we discussed the blogging phenomenon and the rise of the corporate weblog.

The second Client & Partner Briefing presented our views on why 80% of CRM projects have failed in the Netherlands.

Our first Client & Partner Briefing addressed the thorny question of whether or when -ise or -ize word endings should be used.

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