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The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (AHD) is an American dictionary of English published by Boston publisher Houghton Mifflin, the first edition of which appeared in 1969. Its creation was spurred by the controversy over the perceived permissiveness of the Webster's Third New International Dictionary. The third edition had more than 350,000 entries and meanings.[1]

History

James Parton (1912–2001), grandson of the English-born American biographer James Parton (1822–1891), and founder, publisher and co-owner of the magazines American Heritage and Horizon, was appalled by the permissiveness of Webster's Third, published in 1961. Parton tried to buy the G. and C. Merriam Company so that he could undo the changes. When that failed, he contracted with Houghton to publish a new dictionary. The AHD was edited by William Morris and relied on a usage panel of 105 writers, speakers, and eminent persons chosen for their well-known conservatism in the use of language.[2] However, Morris made inconsistent use of the panels, often ignoring their advice and inserting his own opinions.[2]

Linguistics

The AHD broke ground among dictionaries by using corpus linguistics for compiling word frequencies and other information. It took the innovative step of combining prescriptive information (how language should be used) and descriptive information (how it actually is used). The descriptive information was derived from actual texts.

Citations were based on a million-word, three-line citation database prepared by Brown University linguist Henry Kučera.

Usage panel

For expert consultation on words or constructions whose usage was controversial or problematic, the American Heritage Dictionary relied on the advice of a usage panel. In its final form, the panel comprised nearly 200 prominent members of professions whose work demanded sensitivity to language. Former members of the usage panel include novelists (Isaac Asimov, Barbara Kingsolver, David Foster Wallace and Eudora Welty), poets (Rita Dove, Galway Kinnell, Mary Oliver and Robert Pinsky), playwrights (Terrence McNally and Marsha Norman), journalists (Liane Hansen and Susan Stamberg), literary critics (Harold Bloom), columnists and commentators (William F. Buckley, Jr. and Robert J. Samuelson), linguists and cognitive scientists (Anne Curzan, Steven Pinker and Calvert Watkins) and humorists (Garrison Keillor, David Sedaris and Alison Bechdel). Pinker, author of the style

James Parton (1912–2001), grandson of the English-born American biographer James Parton (1822–1891), and founder, publisher and co-owner of the magazines American Heritage and Horizon, was appalled by the permissiveness of Webster's Third, published in 1961. Parton tried to buy the G. and C. Merriam Company so that he could undo the changes. When that failed, he contracted with Houghton to publish a new dictionary. The AHD was edited by William Morris and relied on a usage panel of 105 writers, speakers, and eminent persons chosen for their well-known conservatism in the use of language.[2] However, Morris made inconsistent use of the panels, often ignoring their advice and inserting his own opinions.[2]

Linguistics

The AHD broke ground among dictionaries by using corpus linguistics for compiling word frequencies and other information. It took the innovative step of combining prescriptive information (how language should be used) and descriptive information (how it actually is used). The descriptive information was derived from actual texts.

Citations were based on a million-word, three-line citation database prepared by Brown University linguist Henry Kučera.

Usage panel

For expert consultation on words or constructions whose usage was controversial or problematic, the American Heritage Dictionary relied on the advice of a usage panel. In its final form, the panel comprised nearly 200 prominent members of professions whose work demanded sensitivity to language. Former members of the usage panel include novelists (The AHD broke ground among dictionaries by using corpus linguistics for compiling word frequencies and other information. It took the innovative step of combining prescriptive information (how language should be used) and descriptive information (how it actually is used). The descriptive information was derived from actual texts.

Citations were based on a million-word, three-line citation database prepared by Brown University linguist Henry Kučera.

Usa

Citations were based on a million-word, three-line citation database prepared by Brown University linguist Henry Kučera.

For expert consultation on words or constructions whose usage was controversial or problematic, the American Heritage Dictionary relied on the advice of a usage panel. In its final form, the panel comprised nearly 200 prominent members of professions whose work demanded sensitivity to language. Former members of the usage panel include novelists (Isaac Asimov, Barbara Kingsolver, David Foster Wallace and Eudora Welty), poets (Rita Dove, Galway Kinnell, Mary Oliver and Robert Pinsky), playwrights (Terrence McNally and Marsha Norman), journalists (Liane Hansen and Susan Stamberg), literary critics (Harold Bloom), columnists and commentators (William F. Buckley, Jr. and Robert J. Samuelson), linguists and cognitive scientists (Anne Curzan, Steven Pinker and Calvert Watkins) and humorists (Garrison Keillor, David Sedaris and Alison Bechdel). Pinker, author of the style guide The Sense of Style, was its final chair.[3]

The members of the panel were sent regular ballots asking about matters of usage; the completed ballots were returned and tabulated, and the results formed the basis for special usage notes appended to the relevant dictionary entries. In many cases, these notes not only reported the percentage of panelists who considered a given usage or construction

The members of the panel were sent regular ballots asking about matters of usage; the completed ballots were returned and tabulated, and the results formed the basis for special usage notes appended to the relevant dictionary entries. In many cases, these notes not only reported the percentage of panelists who considered a given usage or construction to be acceptable, but would also report the results from balloting of the same question in past decades, to give a clearer sense of how the language changes over time.

Houghton Mifflin dissolved the usage panel on February 1, 2018, citing the decline in demand for print dictionaries.[4]

The AHD is also somewhat innovative in its liberal use of photographic illustrations, which at the time was highly unusual for general reference dictionaries, many of which went largely or completely unillustrated. It also has an unusually large number of biographical entries for notable persons.

First edition

The first edition appeared in 1969, highly praised for its Indo-European etymologies. In addition to the normally expected etymologies, which for instance trace the word ambiguous to a Proto-Indo-European root ag-, meaning "to drive," the appendices included a seven-page article by Professor Calvert Watkins entitled "Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans" and "Indo-European Roots", 46 pages of entries that are each organized around one of some thousand Proto-Indo-European roots and the English words of the AHD that are understood to have evolved from them. These entries might be called "reverse etymologies": the ag- entry there, for instance, lists 49 terms derived from it, words as diverse as agent, essay, purge, stratagem, ambassador, axiom, and pellagra, along with information about varying routes through intermediate transformations on the way to the contemporary words.

A compacted American Heritage College Dictionary was first released in 1974.

Second and later editions