Electronic Dictionary Entry Analysis:
A Comparison of Word Entries
in the American Heritage Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary

This assignment is a step in the development of a final etymology project for this course. Click here for a copy of the grade sheet which will be used for this assignment.

In this exercise you will compare the entries for the same word in electronic versions of both the American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). For instructions about accessing both of these electronic dictionaries on the MC computer system, click here. For instruction about copying information from these dictionaries click here.

The first step is to choose an appropriate word, one which, perhaps, may lead you eventually to an appropriate topic for your etymology project. The next step is to copy the entries electronically into a separate file and print out a copy to submit along with the following information:

1. In what parts of speech is this word defined? What abbreviations do the dictionaries use for these parts of speech? Note: If a word is defined in more than one part of speech with no change in spelling in AHD, you may have to consult (and print) separate entry in OED.

2. Where do you find information about pronunciation in each entry? Where can you find on-line apronunciation aids or guides in the on-line dictionary to help you interpret this information?

3. What sort of grammatical information and other forms of the word does each dictionary include? List and identify this information.

4. Compare the definitions which each dictionary provides. How are these definitions similar? How are they different? Which dictionary has more definitions? Why?

5. Which dictionary includes subject or usage labels for any definitions? If so, what do these labels mean? Explain any abbreviations used for these labels. How is the definition associated with this label different from the others in the entry?

6. Does either dictionary cite the word in any special phrase or idiom? If so list these phrases or idioms and their meanings.

7. Write out the etymological information provided in each dictionary. Explain each abbreviation used. Then write out a sentence explaining the etymology. Finally, compare the etymologies. Do the two dictionaries agree about the origin of this English word? NOTE: If the entry does not have an etymology, you may have to search a simpler form of the word in the dictionary; e.g., in AHD see "graphic" for etymology of "graphics." Also, some entries use CAPITALIZED LETTERS to refer the user to another entry. If your etymologies contain such references, you should include them.

8. Does this word have an Indo-European root note in the AHD entry? Is this information in the OED? If so, what does this note tell you about the word? Examine some of the words in this entry and discuss what they have in common.

9. What is the earliest cited use of this word in the OED? What is the most recent citation in the OED? Compare these two citations and explain how the forms and meanings of this word are similar and different in these two citations. Use all the citations in the OED to trace the historical development of this word. How does the usage change over time?

10. Summarize the chief similarities and differences between these two entries.

11. Discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of using these electronic dictionary.

12. What did you learn from this assignment?

This  material has been published on the web by Prof. Tom Sienkewicz for his students at Monmouth College. If you have any questions, you can contact him at toms@monm.edu.

Return to Monmouth College Department of Classics Homepage