There may be hope for civilisation after all if a dictionary can rise – as this one has done – to the commanding heights of the non-fiction best sellers’ list. The popularity of Collins Dictionary of the English Language is understandable: it is well-presented, crisply-written, frighteningly comprehensive, and, at the price, a real bargain. It would grace any coffee table, enhance any library and be the salvation of any crossword addict. In most departments it leaves its competitors, literally, gasping for words.
Inevitably, it has the defects of its virtues. In trying to cover so many diverse areas, it is bound to overstretch its resources at times. Curious gaps appear. Students of modern drama, for instance, will be pleased by the honourable mention for such playwrights as Pinter, Osborne and Tom Stoppard but dismayed at the absence of Albee, Whiting, Orton, Nicholls, Arden, Hare and many others. In the roll call of British architects. there is no room, it seems, for Pugin; and while Cobden and Bright are set down as champions of the Anti-Corn Law League, there is no sign of Thomas Attwood or William Lovett of the Chartist Movement. The list of Missing Persons is a long one.
Again, in the very act of trying to be up-to-date in certain fields this dictionary has courted obsolescence. Computer technology, in particular, creates and discards new jargon at an alarming rate – one only has to consider how many of the words in the Penguin Dictionary of Computers (1970) are