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Blog Posts by Subject: Dictionaries

Quiz: Can You Define These Obscure Words?

On April 14 in 1818, the first edition of Noah Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language was published. To celebrate, we're challenging you to show off your knowledge of obscure definitions with this fun quiz.Read More ›

The United States of Fredonia?

“It was a great oversight” of the Constitution’s framers that they did not give the United States a “proper name.” Read More ›

Names Have Meaning: A Research Guide for Baby Names and Family Names

Like any word in the dictionary, a person’s name has meaning. The study of names is called onomastics or onomatology. Onomastics covers the naming of all things, including place names (toponyms) and personal names (anthroponyms). Given names, often called first names, and surnames, often called last names, usually derive from words with distinct origins.Read More ›

14 Words Even Bookworms Often Confuse

We've rounded up some tricky word pairs and their definitions, adding sentences to help you remember the distinctions. Join in the fun by commenting with your own mnemonic sentences that include these words.Read More ›

Bring It On Home: The Oxford English Dictionary

The New York Public Library subscribes to hundreds of online research databases and electronic resources. While these resources are accessible at NYPL's research centers and branch libraries, many of them are also available to Library cardholders remotely. Over the next several weeks I'll be highlighting some e-titles that patrons can log onto from home, from work, or from 

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On the Origin of Some Phrases

Growing up, I used to hear the phrase "what do you want, egg in your beer?" all the time. Although I have many occasions in which I'd like to use it, I never have because I know it would only garner perplexing looks. I looked into it recently and it's from WWII and it seems to be somewhat self-explanatory as egg in beer is not very appealing, as opposed to, say, an

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August Author @ the Library Programs at Mid-Manhattan

What is it like to be a convicted murderer just released from prison? What company was the Apple of the 1960s and 70s? Can you forage for edible plants in New York City? How much do you know about life in Palestine? What does America owe to its

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On the Trivial Pursuit of Useless Information

I don't have a very good memory of the fiction books I read and enjoyed as a child. What I do remember is an obsession with encyclopedias, almanacs, atlases, the

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Rose is a Rose is a Rose: How to Search the Meanings of Words and Phrase Origins

My hope is that this blog will serve as a useful starting point for anyone seeking or researching the origin of words and/or phrases, also called etymology. Both print-based and web-based sources are included.

Here are some web resources on word and phrase origins and a few print resources.

Oxford English Dictionary (OED) The online edition of the 20-volume dictionary, access with your library 

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October Reader's Den — "The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary" Wrap-up & Reading List

But of course it wasn’t finished. It never could be, it never would be, and it never will be.

Welcome back to the Reader’s Den for the final week of our discussion of The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon 

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October Reader’s Den — Discussion Questions for "The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary"

Welcome back to the October Reader’s Den! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary as much as I have. I’ve appreciated the vivid portraits of the people involved in the creation of the “Dic,” and Simon Winchester’s literate prose had me running to the OED (

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October Reader’s Den - About the Author of "The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary"

Thank you for stopping by the Reader’s Den for the second week of our discussion of The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. Are you already engrossed in the trials and triumphs involved in the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)? Did you enjoy the whirlwind tour of the evolution of the English language and its

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October Reader's Den - "The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary"

Welcome to the October Reader’s Den! Did you know that the word den has its origins in the Old English denn, meaning habitation of a wild beast? According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the first recorded use of denn is in Beowulf, around the year 1000. The figurative use of the word, meaning a place of retreat or abode, as in the “Reader’s Den” didn’t appear until a few centuries 

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How Words Evolve… a Darwinian look a the English Language

On a rainy, spring evening in May, Patricia T. O’Conner, former editor of the New York Times Book Review and author of Woe is I  and Origins of the Specious gave a talk at the Mid-Manhattan Library, for the 4th year in a row, entitled, “How Words Evolve… a Darwinian look at the English Language."  You might think a talk on grammar would be drab—it was anything but.  She 

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The Names of Things: Visual Dictionaries Are for Adults, too

Have you ever encountered an entirely new landscape or situation and simultaneously noticed that you don’t have the words to describe it or to ask questions about it? It’s not that you’ve forgotten the words or have suddenly regressed to a state of preverbal babbling, you realize, but that you’ve found a corner of experience that is still remote to you, a forest still overgrown with your own ignorance - your "unknown unknowns" have waxed into "known unknowns," and the effect has left you speechless.


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A Language of Our Own: America’s English and the Influence of Noah Webster

Most people are familiar with the name Noah Webster as the father of the American Dictionary, a book that we all grew up with and still use today.  What many people may not know is that besides being a lexicographer, he was also a dedicated orthographer and philologist, working in spelling reform and lingustics, and had a large influence on the early American language.

Webster began his career as a schoolteacher and recognized a need for a quality teaching tool for children learning grammar and 

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The Joy of Reference

A few weeks ago I was invited to a bridal shower, and by the time I got around to looking up the registry almost everything had already been fulfilled. I don't love registries anyway, and because I'm a librarian I figured I can always get away with giving people books for any and every occasion. Right? I thought a nice cookbook would be the perfect gift, and then remembered I had already done this a few years ago, giving another friend

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A Quick Guide to Culinary Research

While I've taught a number of classes about how one would begin culinary research at the New York Public Library, I understand that people can't always make it to midtown in the middle of the day, nor does everyone live in New York. For those reasons and more, I've put together a brief tutorial on how to begin culinary research at a library and I will attempt to make this as universally applicable to other libraries as possible. 

Cookery is the Word

Perhaps the most important trick when looking up cookbooks in a library catalog is to use the term 

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Best of Reference 2010: Thrifty Reference

Knowledge is power, and in hard times, finding the best information can be even more important. These books, websites, and electronic resources, available through your local library, can save you both time and money! 

Selected and presented by librarians from all three NYC library systems, Best of Reference is sponsored by The New York Library Association's Reference and Adult Services Section.

Coupon Clipping   Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend Anthony S. Mercatante and James R Dow, eds. ... Read More ›