Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors

by Bill Bryson (Black Swan, 2009): 464pp, £8.99 (hbk), ISBN 978 0552773539.

Reviewed by Val Rice

Buy this book

As always, this book by Bill Bryson is good value for money. Originally published in 1991 as The Penguin Dictionary for Writers and Editors, this edition has been revised extensively.

Bill Bryson's preface, written in his usual light-hearted style, stresses that this is a personal collection of words and phrases, including place and people names, that he has gathered together over the past 30 years' writing and editing in Britain and the US.

University Challenge or Mastermind

The dictionary section may not be as comprehensive as the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (NODWE), but there are some longer definitions – for example:

Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska. 'Denali' is also an alternative name for Mount McKinley, North America's highest peak (20,320 feet/6,194 metres), which stands within the park.

Some of the explanations and definitions will also stand you in good stead if you're a fan of University Challenge or Mastermind. For instance, did you know that the site of greatest depth (36,220 feet/11,040 metres) in the Pacific Ocean is called the Mariana Trench? Did you also know that the Czech name for Marienbad is Marianske Lazn? The film title wouldn't have been half as memorable if the Czech version had been used, would it?

Useful addition

There is also an appendix that contains a useful list of words ending in –able and –ible. The other things found there are: major airports with their cities and three-letter designatory letters; temperature and distance conversion tables; metric prefixes; monarchs of England with their dates, helpfully listed under 'Saxons and Danes', 'Normans', 'Plantagenets' through to the 'House of Windsor'; main units of world currency; and, lastly, Arabic and Roman numerals. I recall some of these things appearing in The Schoolgirl's Pocket Book, but I don't think that's still in print!

This is a very useful addition to anyone's reference shelf and will sit happily alongside NODWE et al.

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