In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Merriam-Webster Unabridged (
  • Elizabeth Knowles (bio)
Merriam-Webster Unabridged ( Subscription: $29.95/year

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary site <> now includes a link <> described as “online access to a legendary resource.” The masthead on this second site proclaims, “Welcome to the New Unabridged.” Clicking on the Learn more link, the user finds an overview of what the site offers: an ongoing revision of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, published in hard copy in 1961. This revision, to be made available in staged releases, adds new material and revises existing entries. (The first release is said to include 5,000 new words and definitions.) Although not explicitly stated, the new material includes entries from the later supplementary volumes; for example, ISBN and TEFL from 6,000 Words (1976), escalate and greenhouse effect from 9,000 Words (1983), and quick fix and Watergate from 12,000 Words (1986). There is nothing to distinguish these entries from the original Unabridged publication, but items appearing for the first time, such as mondegreen ‘a word or phrase that results from a mishearing’ and Yooper, a nickname for ‘a native or resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,’ are labeled in red as “new.”

Intended Audience

While the intended audience is not explicitly specified, the dictionary is clearly intended for a wide range of users. Its claims are considerable: as well as being “the largest, most comprehensive American dictionary currently available in print or online,” it is said to be “the best source of current information about the English language.” Definitions have been enhanced by the usage evidence of over 100,000 new quotations from notable writers. There are supplementary contextual notes, and usage paragraphs offering guidance. Dates of first use are being added, and stylistic changes are being made throughout the dictionary. The online Unabridged is presented as a readily usable dictionary of today’s language [End Page 334] that rests on a solid scholarly basis. The layout of the site is clear, with the search facility the most prominent item, and add-ons such as word lists and short articles set out below and in sidebars.

Searching the Dictionary

With simple searching, the search can be filtered according to main entry, definition, date, etymology, usage, examples, author quoted, synonym paragraph, cryptogram, and anagram. Some care may be needed. “Philip Roth” in the author field returns all the entries in which Philip Roth is quoted (there are four), but “Roth, Philip” would get the response “No results were found matching your search criteria.” Wild cards however are usable. “Roth*” in the Author field returns fourteen entries and will find Chris and Kenneth as well as Philip Roth. By choosing Advanced Search, the reader is given the full list of fields available, and clicking on a given field expands on what it offers. This can be helpful where the name is not necessarily transparent: Usage might suggest grammatical usage but in fact offers the capacity to search for “words that are used in a particular way (e.g., slang), region (e.g., Scotland), or field (e.g., law).” The gloss on Date may suggest an over-specific answer since it reads “Words which were coined on a certain date.” What this means is that you put in a year-date and get back a list of words for which that date is the year of first known use—by no means the same thing as coinage. By going to Advanced Search it is possible to combine two or more of the search fields (the example given is of finding all French-derived terms that have “cooking” in the definition by entering “cooking” in the definition field and “French” in the etymology field). The Advanced Search facility also allows users a distinct extra: access to the Citations database of more than one million usage examples used by editors to track words and their meanings.

A search for tiger as a main entry brings up the full entry. The pronunciation field includes an audio symbol, and the plural forms (tigers and the collective tiger) are given in...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 334-339
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.