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Look it up, eh?


The Canadian Oxford Dictionary
Oxford University Press Canada
1998, 1728 pp, $39.95, ISBN 0-19-541120-X

The Oxford Minireference Dictionary & Thesaurus
Edited by Sara Hawker with Chris Cowley
Oxford University Press
1997, 742pp, $10.95, ISBN 0-19-860183-2

Reviewed by Nicole Redman

"Eh: informal 1. inviting assent (nice day, eh). 2. Can. Ascertaining the comprehension, continued interest, agreement, etc. of the person or persons addressed. (it's way out in the suburbs, eh, so I can't get there by bike). This is the only usage of eh that can be categorized as peculiarly Canadian, all other uses being common amongst speakers in other Commonwealth countries and to a lesser extent in the United States."

A truly Canadian term with a definition that could only be found in a truly Canadian dictionary. While Canadians may be at times reluctant to embrace our uniqueness when it comes to the usage and nuance of language we do to certain degree have our own special way of speaking, writing and defining words.

In this first Canadian dictionary by the world renowned Oxford University Press, the opportunity to embrace such Canadian specific words, places and people overflows. An extensive amount of research has obviously been undertaken by the lexicographers of these 1,728 pages.

While thumbing through the pages of this reliable dictionary I came across a definition of Beavertail. Laughing, I counted myself fortunate that it had not been published years ago when I would play a common little joke on visiting friends and relatives in Ottawa. With much fanfare I would invite them out to the Byward Market for Beavertails. My victims in this much overplayed joke would gasped in horror by the thought of consuming a beaver's tail. Their disgust would turn to rather pleasant joy as they discovered that, as Oxford's Dictionary defines it; a Beavertail is "a flat oval of deep fried dough served with various garnishes, esp. sugar and cinnamon" .

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary contains over 2000 entries like Beavertails that are specifically Canadian words and definitions. Canadianisms like booze can, dipsy-doodle, felquiste, kick at the cat and murderball are all in here with all their 'hoser' glory.

This book is more than just a dictionary, it is also a reference book with its ample informational entries which include short biographies of Canadians ranging from Elvis Stoiko to Nellie McClung and Canadian locations as diverse as Nunavut and the Red Chamber. However Canadian first time astronauts Marc Garneau and Roberta Bondar have been unfortunately overlooked. Despite this fact the dictionary at a retail price of $39.95 and 400 entries in which snow appears is still every writer's must-have to assist in creating that winter-scripted masterpiece.

In terms of the more technical aspects of publishing a dictionary, the lexicographers of this particular one have outdone themselves. Although a dictionary cannot teach people the correct way to use a word -- this is can be a rather subjective exercise; it does school us by indicating the more generally accepted spelling and definitions of the word. This Canadian edition will let you know what the correct Canadian spelling of "colour" is but will also indicate that the American spelling of "color" may be used. Very rudimentary lessons in the correct grammatical usage are also included with most definitions.

So if you are a Canajun hangashore with a garbuator that does not work and you decide to call it a day and go out on the town for a Burlington Bun and some brewis you may need this dictionary and if the last couple of words made no sense to you then you definitely need the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

While perusing the Oxford Canadian Dictionary with its considerable weight I started hankering for something really compact but helpful for those times when I am masquerading as the writer on the go. I came across the Oxford Mini Reference Dictionary and Thesaurus.

Whether you are the budding novelist or the college essayist this mini dictionary may be a welcome asset when it comes to that last draft. This book is unusual because it provides dictionary and thesaurus features within the same entry. Pronunciations are also given for odd or cumbersome words that threaten to become tongue twisters. The mini's "L shaped" half frames really help to provide the mini reference of over 160,000 definitions and alternative words with a concise layout. It is also a suitable size for large pockets, knapsacks and therefore can accompany on your many reporting jaunts around the world.

The plastic covering of the mini-reference is a welcome asset for those students and writers who like to munch while they work.

Nicole Redman is member of the Sources staff.

Published in Sources, Number 43, Winter 1999.

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