The Great Palm OS Dictionary
Shoot-out: BDicty, Mi:D, MSDict, Oxford American, and PocketLingo Posted December 2003 by Tanker Bob
“Words mean things.” That's a popular
quote, and one that's right on target. Three things make an impression
when meeting someone—your appearance, your attitude, and your
use of language. When writing, only the last remains. To make the
best impression and appear as erudite as possible, one must have
a good command of the language and apply it aptly. A good dictionary
and thesaurus provide the tools for the best possible impression.
A number of factors make a good dictionary app.
The interface is the window to the application's underlying power.
It should be attractive as well as functional, but shouldn't distract
from the underlying purpose. Search speed enhances utility, especially
in large databases. The bottom line for dictionaries, however, lies
in the words.
It's tempting to concentrate on word count, but
that doesn't tell the whole story. Vendors usually base word counts
on the entirety of its headwords—the bold-typed word at the
top that the work defines. Some companies inflate headwords by including
plurals and other forms in the headword count, rendering a word count
that significantly exceeds the number of unique root words in the
database. Another word-count obfuscation technique involves the inclusion
of entries that most users would never need, things like obscure
plants, animal names, and places. The real meat lies in the depth
and usefulness of the definitions combined with a good word selection.
You won't lea rn that from the word count alone. In fact, word count
can be very misleading, as Beiks' offering handily illustrates.
Since a dictionary and thesaurus team supplies
the minimum basis for vocabulary building, I evaluated all the entrants
in that combination. For interesting and difficult words to use in
the test, I employed The Highly Selective Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily
Literate by Eugene Ehrlich. I didn't play stump the dummy,
but did challenge the databases. In addition, I chose a few terms
of recent origin to see how current as well as comprehensive the
The products chosen for this review all bring something
to the mix. Each will be discussed individually. This review included
BDicty, Mi:D (two dictionaries), MSDict (two dictionaries), Oxford
American, and PocketLingo (two dictionaries).
A Side Trip
A word (no pun intended) needs to be said about
Princeton Cognitive Science Laboratory's WordNet project.
Why? Because many PDA dictionary apps have a reduced WordNet lexicon
as their primary dictionary. Is this a problem? Maybe. This is how
the WordNet web site describes the project: "WordNet® is
an online lexical reference system whose design is inspired by current
psycholinguistic theories of human lexical memory. English nouns,
verbs, adjectives and adverbs are organized into synonym sets, each
representing one underlying lexical concept. Different relations
link the synonym sets." Psycholinguistics is defined in WN 1.6
as "the branch of cognitive psychology that studies the psychological
basis of linguistic competence and performance." This grouping
into synonym sets erases the shades of meaning between the individual
words inside each set. Sometimes that's appropriate, sometimes not.
When selecting down to a PDA-sized database, most of the morphological
distinctions are lost and no real difference remains between similar
words. My beef w/PDA WordNet implementations is that there are many
cases where they use other single words as definitions. Again, shades
of meaning tend to get lost between similar words since they share
the exact same definition. The actual full WordNet database for the
PC has much more detail and some nuancing. Have you heard the word
'dictionary' used yet? No? That's because it isn't a dictionary by
the classic definition. It is, however, free. Most PDA WordNet implementations
use the 1.6 database, a few use 1.71, but the current full version
sits at 2.0. I consciously did not include any pure WordNet dictionaries
in this review, but did include two products with enhanced WordNet
databases. If your favorite isn't discussed here, check the basis
for its dictionary database. If it's pure WordNet, it's not really
a dictionary in the classic sense of the term.