A Pocket Oxford to take to Oxford?
June 12, 2010 3:21 AM   Subscribe

Is there an English dictionary that excludes the most common words?

In middle school, I was required to have the Little Oxford Pocket Dictionary on hand. Even then, I found that it was too small to include the words that I was likely to look up. In college, I would have been extremely grateful for a dictionary that I could comfortably carry around all the time, but that would have the kinds of words that I was now likely to be looking up.

So, is there any print dictionary that is small and portable, but does something like excluding the 5000 or 10000 most commonly used words in the English language?

I'm open to suggestions to dictionaries that employ other clever solutions to the problem.
posted by bardophile to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
So, is there any print dictionary that is small and portable, but does something like excluding the 5000 or 10000 most commonly used words in the English language?


Or at least I have never seen anything like that. Maybe it doesn't make sense to make one.

If you have a quick look through Amazon, you'll see college dictionaries are running to something like 150,000 entries, so cutting the easiest 5,000 or 10,000 entries isn't going to make a hell of a lot of difference. But you want one that is easy to carry, so you want a very narrow range of words, maybe to just the second most common 5,000 or 10,000 words.

A better plan might be to get a small printed dictionary of the most commonly misspelled or confused words, depending on your typical problem. And if you're open to suggestions, I would suggest getting an electronic pocket dictionary, either as a dedicated little piece of hardware or, if you're already always lugging a phone or PC around, as a program for one of your machines.
posted by pracowity at 3:43 AM on June 12, 2010

Sorry, just a further clarification, subsequent to pracowity's response:

The primary use, for me, of such a dictionary, would be looking up words that I am encountering in a book I'm reading, but that I have never seen before.

I obviously have no real clue what the size of my active vocabulary is, but perhaps it's true that after the first 20000 or so words, it would vary too much from person to person for my wish to be feasible.

I am aware of the possibility of an electronic dictionary, but really love flipping through dictionaries...
posted by bardophile at 3:51 AM on June 12, 2010

There are subject-specific dictionaries aimed at particular purposes--e.g., medicine, philosophy, Shakespeare, etc. Depending on your purposes and the range of your reading, one or more of these may be worthwhile.
posted by box at 5:06 AM on June 12, 2010

Yes. Here's one.

Here's another one online.
posted by dontjumplarry at 5:13 AM on June 12, 2010

(... and many more options are available in the "Customers Also Bought" tab at the first link).
posted by dontjumplarry at 5:15 AM on June 12, 2010

The Chambers dictionaries are known to contain the more archaic words.
posted by jpcooper at 7:08 AM on June 12, 2010

You can also consider getting an ipod touch and loading some dictionary applications on it. You would only need the first generation ipod touch, which should be less expensive than the current models. Anywhere that has wifi would also give you access to internet dictionaries.
posted by andoatnp at 9:03 AM on June 12, 2010

There's the Oxford Essential Dictionary of Difficult Words; is that the sort of thing you're looking for?
posted by KathrynT at 9:33 AM on June 12, 2010

I'll be watching this thread for suggestions. I remember hearing a comedian talk about how publishers will make an abridged dictionary and call it the "collegiate" edition. And how one would hope that if you've made it to college, you know the definition for words like HAT and CAR.
posted by ErikaB at 2:12 PM on June 12, 2010

Thanks! The dictionaries of difficult words seem to be the kind of thing I was thinking about. Will have to check them out in person to see if they are. Discipline specific dictionaries are great for people who tend to stick to a particular discipline in their reading. :)
posted by bardophile at 5:20 AM on June 13, 2010

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