Dictionaries For Professional Writers

“Leaf through a dictionary or try to make one, and you will find that every word covers and masks a well so bottomless that the questions you toss into it arouse no more than an echo.”–Paul Valery


Webster’s Third New International Dictionary is not new any more (1993), but it’s still the best dictionary of American English for almost any serious reader or writer. These days you can buy it with an easy-to-use CD-ROM version included; or buy either version separately.

Webster’s Third Unabridged

The Random House Historical Dictionary Of American Slang can be read for pure pleasure, but is also an excellent resource for word scholars and storytellers. It’s tragically incomplete, however, because Volume 2 H-O was published in 1997, and Random House has no plans to publish the final volume. Write your Congressman.

Random House Slang Dictionary

The Dictionary Of American Regional English, from Harvard’s Belknap Press, is not quite as much fun to browse as the Random House volumes, but it’s authoritative and features extensive information about etymology and regional variations.

Dictionary of American Regional English:


The New Hacker’s Dictionary, compiled by Eric S. Raymond is more than just another dictionary of computer jargon; it also contains a treatise on slang and a linguistics lesson on how slang happens. Lots of fun to browse.

Other Good Word Books:

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My Favorite Dictionaries