Open Dictionary

What’s the point of the Open Dictionary?

Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

Recently a user wrote in with a long comment on Stan’s April post about new words, Golly, matey – vocabulary change is massively awesome. The comment is too long to reproduce in full, but here are some parts relating to the Open Dictionary:

“This piece made me ask, what is the point of the Open Dictionary? …

Open Dictionary … seems designed to give the briefest of definitions for only a handful of the words that anyone might come across, with  no further information such as etymology, usage including quotations, &c.

And it is not consistent. It has no ‘Gadzooks’ … But Open Dictionary does give ‘gadabout’, which as a serious word only ever had a brief (if important) use in the 19C.”

It’s a fair question, so let me try to answer it.

You can find a fuller account here, but basically the point of the Open Dictionary is to allow the public to submit words and phrases that do not appear in Macmillan Dictionary to be considered for publication. If accepted, the word or phrase is published in the Open Dictionary, as far as possible in the form in which it has been submitted. The Open Dictionary is a crowdsourced dictionary that stands apart from the main dictionary text, which is the Macmillan Dictionary. It differs from completely open crowdsourced dictionaries such as urbandictionary because the content is moderated, providing a measure of quality control. But for ease of use, the entries in the Open Dictionary can of course be searched together with our ‘normal’ A-Z entries.

As well as appearing under the Open Dictionary heading, the new entry will appear as a standalone entry if it is a completely new item, and at the bottom of the existing entry if it is a new meaning for an existing headword. If after further analysis the Macmillan lexicographers decide that the word or phrase is really useful to the dictionary’s users, it will be promoted to become an entry or sense in the full Macmillan Dictionary. Since last year the source of these promoted entries has been acknowledged with a note about who submitted the entry and when.

So the Open Dictionary is not trying to be exhaustive, but rather to reflect the language change that is happening all the time, as well as filling any gaps people have noticed in Macmillan Dictionary. Like all other learners’ dictionaries, and unlike dictionaries of record such as the OED, Macmillan Dictionary has never supplied etymologies or used quotations, preferring to give authentic examples of current language use; so the Open Dictionary doesn’t have these things either.

The reason there is no entry for Gadzooks in the Open Dictionary is that no one has submitted one; it is not in Macmillan Dictionary because it is a genuine archaism of little use to people who are learning English. Gadabout, which is an entry in the main dictionary and not in the Open Dictionary, earns its place because it is a term that is still in use, albeit somewhat old-fashioned as the entry notes.  The verb gad is included for the same reason.

I hope this post sheds some light on the purpose of the Open Dictionary. If it inspires you to add a word or phrase that is currently missing, you can do so here.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter


  • I think it was an extremely brilliant idea to launch a crowdsourced dictionary. It makes people aware of the fact that language is a living organism which is constantly evolving. Crowdsourced lexicography is all about ‘citizen editors’ helping trace those changes. As the saying goes, two heads are better than one. Crowdsourced lexicography encourages the spirit of team. Macmillan Dictionary makes it possible for contributors to feel that they are part of a global linguistic community. It is really delightful to realise that your opinion counts and is paid attention to. Macmillan’s Open Dictionary is a people’s dictionary. It fosters linguistic democracy, which enables practically anyone in the world to have a say in the highly challenging proccess of creating a dictionary.

    The bottom line is that saying that Macmilan’s Open Dictionary is living dictionary would be an understatement. It is a BREATHING dictionary.

    Thank you for your infectious love of language and enthusiasm!

    Good luck and keep up the good job!

  • Hi Boris, thank you for your lovely comment, it’s great to hear from you. As the editor of the Open Dictionary I really appreciate the contribution that you and your fellow ‘citizen editors’ make to helping us keep up to date with language change. I hope you will continue to help the OD continue to breathe.

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