Are you dictionary-phobic?

I used to hate the dictionary. A common scene that would play out in my house when I was growing up: I’d ask one of my parents how to spell something or what something meant, and despite knowing the answer, they’d tell me to go look it up in the dictionary. And then I’d go lug the heavy thing off the bookcase and grumble to myself about having to figure out how to spell something in order to look up how to spell it (if you know what I mean).

But my views on dictionaries have changed. Do you have an aversion to using them? If so, you may not know how editors use them, and how we recommend others use them: as the arbitrary authority.

Since there are numerous dictionaries of the English language, Step 1 is to choose one (whichever is most commonly used in your field and in your part of the world). Step 2 is to keep it nearby when you’re writing or editing, and treat it as the authority on spelling, unless there’s a very good reason not to for a particular word (maybe your dictionary has Web site instead of website). If two spellings are given, use the first.Peggys.jpg

The dictionary is your friend. It can settle arguments among colleagues. It’s a stable body of knowledge that exists independently of the Internet. It can give you a definitive answer in a world in which there are few.



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