On a recent canoe float with some friends the pronunciation of the noun “penchant” came up and there was lively discussion as to whether our American English pronunciation or the more pretentious “pahn-shahn”, from the French was more appropriate.
“Is that what you talk about on canoe trips with the guys?” you ask. Well, sure; along with politics, philosophy, pop culture, religion and some other things which may have only slight literary value. On a prior canoe trip, “ubiquitous” was the word of the day as it was used to describe the River Birches so prevalent along the banks of a particular river.
I thought about these words and my approach to researching their meanings, etymologies and pronunciations now compared to 15 years ago. I used to have a dictionary on my desk and used the public library as a backup resource. Now I have an electronic dictionary on my desktop PC or my laptop and a shortcut to several on-line dictionaries in my Favorites folder. I can even get recorded pronunciations of the words some in dialects like American English, Australian English and the like. Technology has definitely made my job easier and I can be more thorough with my research as well.
So what is the best online dictionary? If you want a straight vanilla version similar to what we used to pull off the library shelf, start with meriam-webster.com which now belongs to Encyclopedia Britannica Company. You don’t have to flip through any pages; just type in your word and click “Enter”. This site also gives you a thesaurus, Spanish-English dictionary and links to many others. If you find joy in the study of our native language, there are also word histories, word games, new words and slang and a look at words that are “trending”, which in pop language means “moving up”.
It’s hard for me to pick just one dictionary, but by all means try “thefreedictionary.com” which allows you to save your research for future reference and gives you links to specialty dictionaries and a good selection of foreign language references.
One other must for the serious word student is Sequence Publishing’s “TheSage’s English Dictionary and Thesaurus” which describes itself as” “A Comprehensive and Easy-to-use Language Reference System”. You can download “The Sage” to your PC or to a portable drive and take it with you. It gives you many customizable features and allows you to record your word studies. It has a 200,000-plus-word dictionary, a complete thesaurus and many, many pronunciations.
So if you have a penchant for etymology, try one of the online dictionaries. They’re ubiquitous! Refseek.com/directory has a list of about 30 dictionaries and thesauri, including “Webopedia” and “Computer Definitions” for computer terms.