Review by Choice Review
The descriptive, nonjudgmental theory of lexicography that informed Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1961) and occasioned much rancor, the American Heritage Dictionary (1969), and a spate of usage books (one by William Morris, editor of AHD, 1975, rev. 1985) is now evident in this major new dictionary of usage. Entries range from a few lines to four pages (on ain't). Most run several inches and typically sketch the history of controversy over the use of a word or phrase; record (occasionally with sardonic overtone) often contradictory opinions; quote uses (est. 20,000 total) from the vast Merriam-Webster files; tsk tsk at the fuss; and advise speakers and writers to do as they choose. There is an occasional reference to "edited prose" whose standards (undefined) might be surmised to be otherwise. Thus the proscription of irregardless chosen to illustrate the dust jacket is as characteristic of the work as are the pictorial covers of mass market paperbacks. "Use makes right" is not an oversimplification to judge by most entries and by the closing words under "Substandard": "tends to mean only that the word or construction so labeled does not accord with the commentator's own notions of good usage." Despite this stance, and a friendly second-person tone in the comment sections of the entries, the book may intimidate; and it sometimes seems to condescend to those who should use it. It seems certain to infuriate many who will find pet shibboleths denied their former roles of distinguishing rectitude. Superb bibliography of predecessors and competitors. Unquestionably essential for every library. The authority and resources of the publisher ensure important implications for teachers, writers, publishers, and editors. -V. Clark, Choice
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.