Here is a list of the tools I use when I write in English. They are not the best tools but only the ones I like, so any suggestion from readers is welcome. I have also added a few reference tools and encyclopaedias, due to the nature of this blog.
Whatever help one can find in a dictionary, a thesaurus or any other resource, it is our mind & taste that have to make the appropriate choice, so here again a good reading experience of valuable texts is the key to decent writing.
Bilingual tools are also included. Why? Aren’t monolingual tools better? Yes, they surely are since they force us to think in the new language, but here in my blog the protagonist is not a language, but ideas, history, philosophy etc. even though expressed in simple ways. Sometimes I need to brainstorm in Italian when topics become complex, thence the need of a few translation tools.
- Il grande dizionario di inglese, Mario Hazon, Garzanti 2002. It is an up-to-date edition of the Italian-English dictionary I had at school. I find it excellent.
- Wordreference.com. A good web resource I use daily with bilingual dictionaries of Italian, English, French, German, Greek, Romanian, Russian etc. Much quicker than any paper dictionary (which is unfortunate, because I love to leaf through dictionary pages).
- The Lexilogos translation web portal, a French (French Canadian?) resource with automatic translators for almost every language on earth (Chinese, Arabic and Indian languages included). I dislike computer translations for their total weirdness and I seldom use them, but they can suggest unexpected solutions. Again, the right choice depends on us. The site comprises the Reverso.net, Google and Yahoo Babel fish translators. I’m told that Power Translator is also a good software for automatic translations.
- The Merriam-Webster pocket dictionaries. Many years ago I stumbled upon an excellent Merriam-Webster paperback edition (based on the Collegiate edition, if I’m not wrong). Since then I am a Merriam-Webster aficionado and do not regret it. That magic compact book, now lost, helped me effectively with any text, from comics to English and American literature.
I now use the Home and Office Collegiate-based paperback edition of 1995 (the second from the bottom left in the picture above).
Merriam-Webster is to me THE monolingual dictionary, with word definitions written with admirable concinnitas.
- The huge Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, Dorset & Baber 1972. I bought it in Boston in 1993 for a bargain price. A sort of monster, or bambinone (big boy.) The link is to the latest edition.
- The dictionaries page of Lexilogos, a web portal again from France, with tons of links to almost every on-line great dictionary, such as Oxford Oald, Cambridge, Oxford Compact, Collins, Etymonline, American Heritage, etc.
- The on-line Merriam-Webster. It is the tool I use everyday to check meanings and colourations of words. I also just found this great on-line searchable Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913 + 1828 editions) by the Artful Project, plus this impressive Webster on-line resource.
- The on-line Cambridge dictionary. Another daily resource which helps me to contain mistakes with prepositions, such as to, for, of, in, by, on etc.
English and the Latin languages use prepositions in a very different way. For example, which of the two is correct: Participate *to* a discussion or *in* a discussion? Italian and French prefer the former, English the latter. When my language experience is not enough, I need these (time-consuming) checks.
- The Gnome Dictionary on Linux. An excellent tool I’m addicted to. It is a DICT client written by the Italian geek Emmanuele Bassi. I use it when I’m on Linux, which I can dual-boot on my mobile as an alternative to Windows XP. It allows quick access to numerous dictionaries including the fascinating Webster 1913 edition. I wonder if I’ll ever find a Windows version.
Update: here is the Dict.org web page, which is of course platform (OS)-independent. Great tool, also for English mother-tongues I believe, and a way of tasting Linux software big power.
- The Thesaurus.com web page, which also has a dictionary and a reference section (Ask.com). The Roget’s Thesaurus is a classic for synonyms I used a lot in the past, but I now prefer this on-line resource based on the Roget’s Thesaurus II. I also possess the Webster’s Thesaurus in book form (the first from the bottom-left) but I don’t like it much. A searchable on-line Roget’s Thesaurus (1911) can be found here.
Synonyms are a treasure for writing, like the word thesaurus suggests, but they are of little help if you don’t “feel” which is the right word among a long list of synonyms. Experience, again, matters.
Reference & Encyclopedias
- Enciclopedia Italiana dell’Istituto Treccani, 1939, which I find among the best for topics regarding the humanities. La Piccola Treccani, 1995, is more up-to-date but it is much smaller.
- La Enciclopedia Garzanti Europea, 1980. Some entries are quite good.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. I have the 1965 Edition, 23 volumes, quite good. I sometimes prefer the 1911 Britannica although this on-line version contains lots of errors. The on-line Britannica is excellent, always up-to-date and not too expensive yearly.
- The Wikipedia. I am a great fan of this remarkable tool, possibly the biggest encyclopaedia ever created (see a discussion in the comments section).
- Answers.com. A very good on-line tool, both a dictionary and an encyclopaedia, with excerpts from the Wikipedia as well. I’m getting addicted to it also because of the add-on for the Firefox browser (Answers), which enables to alt-click on any word for dictionary and encyclopaedia immediate reference.
Note. Links on this post are not provided for commercial purposes.