American Heritage Dictionary vs New Oxford American Dictionary

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated:

The dictionary bundled with macOS sucks donkey ass.

This page is a comparison of American Heritage Dictionary vs New Oxford American Dictionary.

In 2005 April, Apple Computer Inc released its OS X 10.4 operating system, which comes bundled with a dictionary software, simply named Dictionary. This bundled software is a digital version of the New Oxford American Dictionary. (NOAD) New Oxford American Dictionary

Oxford American Dictionary
The Oxford American Dictionary bundled with Mac OS X.

After daily use for a year, i absolutely don't like NOAD. NOAD is a learner's dictionary. It tends to describe than define, and in a vernacular fashion. If you are a college student and often lookup words you've never seen, then NOAD is useful. But if you are a journalist or language researcher who often look up to see nuances thru a word's etymology and classical usage, NOAD is rather completely useless.

Here are some word-entry comparisons showing why i prefer American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) American Heritage Dictionary , which i've used for the past 10 years.

American Heritage Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary on Mac OS Classic.
grok To understand profoundly through intuition or empathy. understand (something) intuitively or by empathy : because of all the commercials, children grok things immediately.
• [ intrans. ] empathize or communicate sympathetically; establish a rapport.

I much prefer the AHD definition. In NOAD they give a sub definition (the one with the bullet •), which i don't think should be there.

woe n. 1. Deep distress or misery, as from grief; wretchedness. See note at regret. 2. Misfortune; calamity: economic and political woes.
interj. 1. Used to express sorrow or dismay.
noun often humorous
great sorrow or distress : they had a complicated tale of woe.
• (woes) things that cause sorrow or distress; troubles : to add to his woes, customers have been spending less.

I much prefer AHD's definitions. I despise NOAD's touch up of “often humorous”. Humorous to one is not humorous to another. It is debatable whether it is “often” humorous. Such a tweak in a reference work often seems to want to dictate the direction of the word's meaning. And, woe is not just “great sorrow or distress”; it is “Deep distress or misery” and “Misfortune; calamity”.

accost To approach and speak to in an aggressive, hostile, or sexually suggestive manner. approach and address (someone) boldly or aggressively : reporters accosted him in the street.
• approach (someone) with hostility or harmful intent : he was accosted by a thief, demanding his money or his life.
• approach and address (someone) with sexual intent : a man tried to accost the girl on her way to school.

Here, i prefer AHD because NOAD is verbose and complex and misleading by elaboration. Note NOAD's main explanation uses the word “boldly”, however, accost doesn't really have a element of boldness in it. Aggression, hostility, and lasciviousness underlies that word.

While i was reading Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, part 2 chapter 8, i came to the word “breach” in:

A breach in one single pane of glass would have been immediate death: nor could any thing have preserved the windows, but the strong lattice wires placed on the outside, against accidents in travelling.

This is when the protagonist is inside a box under the sea, where “breach” there means a crack or breaking of the window. I didn't know this before. I only knew “breach” as in modern usage as in “breached security”.

A lookup in dictionaries showed:

breach 1. a. An opening, a tear, or a rupture. b. A gap or rift, especially in or as if in a solid structure such as a dike or fortification. 2 a gap in a wall, barrier, or defense, esp. one made by an attacking army.

Here, NOAD simply failed as a dictionary. If i didn't have AHD, i'd be left scratching my head.

In Gulliver's Travels, i came to the sentence:

And, as truth always forces its way into rational minds, so this honest worthy gentleman, who had some tincture of learning, and very good sense, was immediately convinced of my candour and veracity.

I looked up “tincture”:

tincture 4. A trace or vestige: “a faint tincture of condescension” Robert Craft. 2 a slight trace of something : she could not keep a tincture of bitterness out of her voice.

Here, AHD is again more precise, and it happens to be more concise too. A trace is a trace, not a slight trace. And, the “of something” is redundant and logically incorrect, nor do i think it is helpful practically in this case. Also note the sample usages given. In AHD, they put author attributions, while NOAD does not. This can mean that AHD is more catered to professionals, while NOAD more towards learners.

Again, reading Gulliver's Travels i encountered:

I showed him a corn that I had cut off with my own hand, from a maid of honour's toe; it was about the bigness of Kentish pippin, and grown so hard, that when I returned England, I got it hollowed into a cup, and set in silver.

Here, the “corn” is from a giant. I looked up “hollow”.

hollow v. tr. 1. To make hollow: hollow out a pumpkin. 2. To scoop or form by making concave: hollow out a nest in the sand. v. intr. 1. To become hollow or empt. verb [trans.] form by making a hole : a tunnel was hollowed out in a mountain range.
• make a depression in.

Here, NOAD is wrong, period.

In reading Sir Richard Burton's Arabian Nights, on the story of Aladdin, there's this passage:

… Hardly had we lain down, O my mother, than one whose form I wot not uplifted our bed and transported it to a darksome place, fulsome and mean.

I looked up the word “fulsome”.

fulsome adj. 1. Offensively flattering or insincere. See note at unctuous. 2. Offensive to the taste or sensibilities. 3. Usage Problem Copious or abundant. adjective 1 complimentary or flattering to an excessive degree : they are almost embarrassingly fulsome in their appreciation. 2 of large size or quantity; generous or abundant : a fulsome harvest.

Here, NOAD is totally missing it. In the context of the tale, the speaker (daughter of the queen) has been just shut out in a dark room over the night by a Jinni. The “fulsome” would have to mean something nasty. AHD comes close with its definition 2, while NOAD totally missed out.

lonely 1. a. Without companions; lone. b. Characterized by aloneness; solitary. 2. Unfrequented by people; desolate: a lonely crossroads. 3. a. Dejected by the awareness of being alone. See note at alone. b. Producing such dejection: the loneliest night of the week. sad because one has no friends or company : lonely old people whose families do not care for them.
• without companions; solitary : passing long lonely hours looking onto the street.
• (of a place) unfrequented and remote : a lonely stretch of country lane.

“Sad”?? Loneiness as a word does not imply sadness. Perhaps lonely persons are often sad, but it is no dictionary's business to meddle with anthropology. I really don't like the NOAD's fishy headings.

populace 1. The general public; the masses. 2. A population. the people living in a particular country or area:the party misjudged the mood of the populace.

NOAD is totally misleading. In NOAD's explanatory definition, it seems to mislead the populace as synonym to countrymen or local people. Fantastically stupid.

epistomology n. 1. The branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity. The theory of knowledge, esp. with regard to its methods, validity, and scope.
Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.

Note the NOAD's misleading latch-on: “Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion”. How very ridiculous. If epistemology is that or about that, then we don't need philosophers.

handcuff A restraining device consisting of a pair of strong, connected hoops that can be tightened and locked about the wrists and used on one or both arms of a prisoner in custody; a manacle. Often used in the plural. a pair of lockable linked metal rings for securing a prisoner's wrists.

A handcuff is for prisoners as a definition? O! fck off.

It is clearly seen, that NOAD is also somewhat a learner's dictionary, using oft misleading, simplistic descriptions.