Misc.: Hierarchy of dictionaries

July 10, 2008: Issue 247

Stylebook cuts red book.
Red book covers heavy book.
Heavy book smashes all others.

When you look up a spelling, start at SIMStylebook.com. Check the main word list first, but don’t forget the specialized word lists in the garden, food, and crafts sections.

If your word isn’t there, go to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Eleventh Edition. That’s the one with the red cover. When an entry includes multiple spellings, the first one listed is preferred.

Still no luck? Try Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (unabridged). That’s the back-breaking volume. We have copies in the CE department.

If you still haven’t found the word, you’re dealing with a new coinage or an obscure term. You might want to substitute another word or phrase. Otherwise it’s time for the Oxford English Dictionary or a Web search.

Case study: When we tried to find the spelling of another name for the rock-paper-scissors game, dictionaries were no help. Google turned up rochambeau, roshambo, and ro-sham-bo. Rochambeau got the most hits, but many of those were references to an 18th-century French count. Roshambo came in a solid second, and besides, that’s how the World RPS Society spells it. So we’ll go with that.

Yes, they really exist: Check out the World RPS Society (“Serving the needs of decision makers since 1918”).

Contest: Rock, paper, or scissors? E-mail us by 5 p.m. Friday, and your entries will battle it out for a prize.

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