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DICTIONARY

Review: Linguistic erudition comes at the expense of utility

A bilingual dictionary generally serves users looking for words they already know in their own language - which means the work must be prosaic as well as erudite, slangy as well as formal. Thus, while lovers of exotic English words may be delighted to uncover treasures on almost every page of the third edition of Pezolt publishing house's Slovak-English/English-Slovak dictionary, the more everyday user may be disappointed that so little attention was given to how each language is really spoken.
Opening randomly to page 286, for example, one finds the melodic meretricious, meridional, and merlin (a bird of prey). Methinks (a word found on that same page) the intent of the newest dictionary to hit the Slovak market is to cover every English word that ever befuddled a Slovak translator, and scads more too.

Pezolt's Slovak-English dictionary, 3rd edition

Rating: 3 out of 10
Price: 500-1,000 crowns

A bilingual dictionary generally serves users looking for words they already know in their own language - which means the work must be prosaic as well as erudite, slangy as well as formal. Thus, while lovers of exotic English words may be delighted to uncover treasures on almost every page of the third edition of Pezolt publishing house's Slovak-English/English-Slovak dictionary, the more everyday user may be disappointed that so little attention was given to how each language is really spoken.

Opening randomly to page 286, for example, one finds the melodic meretricious, meridional, and merlin (a bird of prey). Methinks (a word found on that same page) the intent of the newest dictionary to hit the Slovak market is to cover every English word that ever befuddled a Slovak translator, and scads more too.

No one, not even Noah Webster, ever defined all the words in the English language, but this dictionary gives it a good try. The 'Q' section is the gamest, requiring an English-English dictionary (a comprehensive one at that) to help all but the most scholarly among us understand what appears to be our mother tongue, never mind the translations. In one sequence we find quince, quins, quinsy - quaint words to be sure - as well as the eminently useful quinquagenarian and the more heard, but less seen quintuplet.

Unfortunately, the average person buys a Slovak-English/English Slovak dictionary to help negotiate the adventure of living in Slovakia - not for adventure in and of itself. Pezolt's dictionary thoroughly maps the literary crevices of both languages, but a lot of good it will do a newcomer to learn the Slovak words jasot and jastrab mean 'jubiliation' and 'hawk', when all he wanted to know was why everyone kept saying jasne ('it's clear', or 'of course').

It is a quotidian weakness in the dictionary business, to be sure, not to attend to common parlance, but it is more ridiculous here given what can be found in this dictionary's 1023 pages. Dowdy is located on a page that might also have explained dork. The same goes for gelid and geek, nexus and nerd.

Standard lexicographic prudishness also reigns - this dictionary will be no help to an English speaker at a Slovak football game trying to understand what the guys behind him are shouting, colourful words that send many of us to dictionaries in the first place.

But the fatal flaw of this thick blue clunker (not listed, by the way) is that there is no attempt to show these wonderful words in context. Entries on both sides of the book have as many as 20 or 30 synonyms listed beneath them. With no sample sentences, the unlucky language learner is left in the lurch.

What we have here is an interesting collection of the eclectic that might be a helpful supplement to professionals, or anyone else tasked with taxing English texts (or vice-versa). Slovak university students struggling with Shakespeare come to mind.

While the meat of the material lacks practicality, the dictionary does include several utilitarian perks: a fetching blue ribbon to mark pages, a conversion of English weights and measures, and a brief and interesting dictionary of common English and American abbreviations; AB, apparently, stands for 'able-bodied seaman'. Fancy that.

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