Why I Love: The Oxford English Dictionary for Writers and Editors

A new edition has just been published of the reference text of choice for editors, journalists and publishers

The New Oxford English Dictionary for Writers and Editors
Author: Oxford
ISBN-13: 978-0199570010
Publisher: Oxford Dictionaries
Guideline Price: €0

Should we standardise or standardize certain word endings? Is E M Forster’s book Howard’s End or Howards End? Is it al-Qaeda or al-Qaida? For those who need to know, the answer to these and many thousands of other such conundrums is to hand.

For the legions of copy-editors, journalists, publishers and others who daily wrestle with words in the English language, if there’s one reference of choice that provides some sense of comfort and conformity in the ever-changing world of words, this is the Bible [Bible, the (not ital.; abbrev. Bib.)].

First published in 1905 as the Authors’ and Printers’ Dictionary, the book was revised in 1981 as the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors and updated in 2000. The New ODWE appeared in 2005 and the revised edition is just out.

Why this is such a great favourite is because it’s not one of your usual dictionaries, which are often unwieldy and forbidding tomes; but this little gem is a pocket-sized and standardised [-ized typically in the US, -ised more often in British usage] current compilation of words that often cause problems for writers, editors and publishers.


Unfamiliar words and names often vary in presentation across publications in terms of capitalisation, punctuation, hyphenation, the use of italics and accents. Other problems occur with brand names, proper names, terms of address, the names of people, places, books (it’s Howards End), new words from popular culture, acronyms, plus British and US variants.

Compiled from the vast database of the Oxford English Dictionary, which contains more than 2.5 billion words, and the advice of publishing experts, it is not always fundamentalist in its advice - “al-Qaeda (also al-Qaida)”.

The New ODWE borrows much from the 2005 edition and has new editors, but retains the following entry, which may surprise Irish readers: “Black and Tans Irish armed force recruited by the government to fight Sinn Fein in 1920-21 (caps)”.

But hey, we all make mistakes and the arrival of this new edition is a great cause for celebration. Anyone for a Scots whiskey?

The New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors is available in Hodges Figgis, Dawson Street, Dublin, and online at oxforddictionaries.com

John Moran

John Moran

John Moran is a former Irish Times journalist