In the early
1980s, while Robert Parks was on a Fulbright Fellowship in Japan, he did some
consulting with a Japanese electronics company. They were interested in adding
functionality for students to their computers. He eventually agreed to develop
a dictionary for them.
There are two methods of
producing dictionary materials—from a primary corpus and from secondary
sources. Our editing manual and procedures involved use of both primary and
secondary sources. Under Dr. Parks' direction, a group full-time editors (whose
number varied from two to four during the project) and a staff of writers, eventually
numbering over twenty, worked in Ithaca for over five years producing an original
American English Dictionary. This was a distinguished group of writers and editors,
many of whom held advanced degrees.
Wordsmyth's aim, from
the beginning, was to write for a general audience who wanted a readable source
of information about meanings. We wanted to reach people in their offices, workplaces,
homes, and schools. We wanted to produce the highest quality and most readable
We considered the possibility
of restricting the defining vocabulary (as Longman does in the Longman Dictionary
of Contemporary English), but ultimately rejected that approach. The words in
a restricted defining vocabulary are generally the most polysemous and therefore
the most difficult to understand unambiguously. We selected a word list of nearly
50,000 headwords covering all of the areas of knowledge that are important in
education and in everyday life. This word list is larger than any desk dictionary,
pocket dictionary, or school dictionary. In order to keep the size of the word
list reasonable, we cut out arcane and technical vocabulary that might be found
in larger or unabridged works. But, we made up for this with an important strategic
decision: We decided to build linkages among the dictionary entries by integrating
a thesaurus directly into the dictionary.
A large percentage of the
work had been finished when the electronics firm in Japan decided to change
development directions and discontinued their sponsorship of the project. Dr.
Parks was then able to acquire the rights to the Wordsmyth Dictionary. In 1991
and 1992 he licensed The Wordsmyth Dictionary to IBM to integrate into their
products, and IBM in turn supported the development of the integrated thesaurus—the
first step toward a lexipedia. The term "lexipedia" is a coinage that
Dr. Parks uses to refer to a dictionary with specific marked relationships among
its entries—a sort of "semantic network" that integrates both
linguistic and real-world knowledge.
of our work is a dictionary that has several important and distinctive qualities.
Chief among the distinctive features are (1) clarity, simplicity, and precision
of style resulting in definitions that are more accessible than those of American
college dictionaries; and (2) the integration of dictionary and thesaurus data,
so that only one entry is required instead of both dictionary and thesaurus
entries. Succinctly stated:
- The Wordsmyth Dictionary-Thesaurus
(WDT) is the only Dictionary with a complete, integrated thesaurus.
- Synonyms are keyed to
dictionary definitions. No dictionaries (online or in print) offer synonyms
keyed to each of the definitions in a dictionary entry. This level of precision
is unmatched in any other thesaurus.
- It is also the only thesaurus
with a complete, integrated dictionary.
- Clarity, simplicity,
and precision of style, result in definitions that are more accessible than
those of American college dictionaries.
- The definitions are ordered
by frequency of use, so the first definition is most frequently the one the
user is seeking.
- The WDT has more examples
than other, comparable dictionaries.
- The WDT is the only thesaurus
to systematically distinguish exact synonyms and near synonyms.
beginning we wanted to reach the widest possible audience, and we were aware
of the potential for electronic distribution to make this possible. But it was
not until 1996 that it became clear that the Internet would make our vision
of a "dictionary for everyone" possible.
University of Chicago's
ARTFL Project assisted in presenting the first Web edition of The Wordsmyth
Educational Dictionary-Thesaurus. We are grateful to Mark Olsen and the ARTFL
Project for their support and guidance in entering the world of Internet educational
resources. Our current Web site, with its innovative new access technologies,
would not have been possible without this first venture on the Internet.
We believe that in the desire
to make use of the plentiful resources of the Internet, people want the convenience
of dictionary access at virtually every point in their Web experience. We may
not consult a dictionary every day, or even every week — but we still
want one conveniently available on hand. It is the one work that finds a place
on every bookshelf.
Our Web site is the product
of countless hours of collaborative work by a small group of people who have
faith in the educative potential of the Internet, a passion for knowledge and
education, and the skills to put these ideas into practice. This group that
has become The Wordsmyth Collaboratory and is responsible for this Web site,
presenting The Wordsmyth Dictionary-Thesaurus to the world with much vigor and
hope for its future.