One sure way to give your child a head start on a successful school year is to stock your home bookshelves with up-to-date, reliable reference material. Whether your student is tackling a spelling test, a term paper or a creative writing assignment, an excellent dictionary is an indispensable tool.

The most popular choice is the college dictionary, aimed at students (from high school to graduate level), but also widely used in the home and office. This year, the college dictionary market includes a new competitor: the Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary, released in July. Billed as "the first dictionary for the Internet age," the Encarta dictionary is also the biggest in its category, with more than 320,000 entries. A previous dictionary created by the same team, the Encarta World English Dictionary, provoked an uproar when it was published in 1999 with the stated goal of capturing the English language as it is spoken all over the world. The new Encarta College Dictionary takes a more traditional approach, sticking with American English, and using the opinions of American college professors on questions of usage. The new volume includes several helpful features, such as Spellcheck (common spelling errors), Quick Facts, Correct Usage and Literary Links, which are interspersed with the definitions. In tackling the college dictionary market, the Encarta entry faces competition from four long-time favorites that dominate the category. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition is the best-selling dictionary in America, known for its clarity and reliability. Noah Webster wrote the first American dictionary in 1806, and the Merriam brothers later bought the rights to his work. Merriam-Webster is thus the true heir to Noah Webster's achievement, but the name Webster, having become synonymous with dictionary, has entered the public domain and is freely used in many titles. Take for example, Webster's New World College Dictionary, fourth edition. No Webster was involved in compiling this volume, but it has become an authoritative source for journalists and writers, as well as students. Many organizations, including the Associated Press and The New York Times, use Webster's New World College Dictionary as their official standard on matters of spelling and usage.

Two other top college dictionaries to consider for your budding scholar are Random House Webster's College Dictionary, 2001 edition and American Heritage College Dictionary, third edition. Random House updates its college dictionary each year, and the 2001 edition includes more than 100 new words everything from DSL (digital subscriber line) to hottie (a sexually attractive person). The American Heritage College Dictionary includes interesting asides on word histories and regional usage, as well as an attractive design with numerous illustrations and maps.

comments powered by Disqus