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Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors | Reviews

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The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors - edited by R M Ritter
Oxford University Press 2000 174 pages


The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and...  

'if I have a niggling question about correct spelling or meaning, my first port of call is more often the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors'





'an essential working tool for every working writer'



There are some books that copy editors (two words, one word in US) and proofreaders (one word, but sometimes hyphenated esp. as verb) keep by them at all times. A good comprehensive dictionary is a must, a style guide or two is always useful, as is an encyclopedia (but use -paed- in quoting titles where that spelling was followed), a thesaurus, and Brewer’s Phrase and Fable, though I tend to read this when I’m bored with what I’m doing. But if I have a niggling question about correct spelling or meaning, my first port of call is more often the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, which is nothing less than a compendious (comprehensive but fairly brief) assembly of all kinds of information.

Take the double-page spread in front of me, from Harlow (US film actress) to headrest (one word). Here I can confirm that Hartlepool is in Cleveland, or that an haruspex was a Roman religious official who interpreted omens from looking at animals’ entrails, not to mention learning what the plural is. Haute bourgeoisie should be italicised, while haute couture escapes this fate. In case you’re wondering, Julian Hawthorne is the son of Nathaniel Hawthorne, while hay fever is (two words). HB means hard black and hdkf. is apparently an acceptable abbreviation (in general do not use points (a general term for all marks of punctuation) in abbreviations with several full or small caps.).

I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve already got the idea. It gathers together much useful if apparently arcane knowledge, correct spellings for difficult words like veranda (not –ah), translations of foreign phrases, explanations of abbreviations – it’s terribly useful if you want to find out whether a word should be capitalised. And it has a set of terribly useful appendices (pl. –ices) covering such things as mathematical symbols, transliteration and proofreading marks.

This book is subtitled ‘the essential guide for anyone who works with words’, and while I might not go quite as far as that, it certainly is an essential working tool for every working writer and editor. One notable difference between this edition and the superseded 1981 edition is the removal of practically all the typographical material, everything from accents and special sorts to punctuation, and ‘rules’ (a personal favourite). Much of this material will presumably reappear in the Oxford Guide to Style, intended to be a companion volume to this dictionary, and which was apparently due in Spring 2001, though I’ve yet to see it. Nevertheless, as it stands, the ODWE is a fine tool for writers, and jolly good entertainment. Yes, I also read it when I’m bored.


© Maureen Kincaid SpellerMaureen Kincaid Speller a reviewer, writer, editor and former librarian, is our book reviewer and also works for WritersServices as a freelance editor. 2002 Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller

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List price: £15.99
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Sales rank: 1,037,899