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April 6, 1970

Special Book Review: A New Dictionary

Author Affiliations

From the Scientific Publications Division, American Medical Association, Chicago.

JAMA. 1970;212(1):136. doi:10.1001/jama.1970.03170140092017

The new American Heritage Dictionary will probably satisfy more needs than any other one-volume dictionary in English. We cannot, of course, call it the "best," for such a term is entirely relative. Best for what? Under what circumstances? In any comparison we must first ask, What needs must be met, what values and criteria employed? As these vary, so too will our view of the "best."

If we ask, What needs must a dictionary fulfil? we immediately find contradictions. Some persons want above all a handy volume, compact and easily consulted, but others want completeness, with listing of all or almost all English words. Quite obviously, a dictionary, if complete, must be bulky. Fine print can reduce the bulk somewhat but only at the cost of other values. Hence, we must decide how much compromise we want —how much completeness we will give up for the sake of handiness.