Electronic way with words

31st January 1997 at 00:00
COLLINS ELECTRONIC ENGLISH DICTIONARY THESAURUS V2.0 HarperCollins CD-Rom for Research Machines and IBM and compatibles, Pounds 42. Requires 4 megabytes of memory and 17.5 megabytes of hard disc space (partial installation needs 4 megabytes)

The main problem with this package is the anagram feature. It enables you to harness the power of the PC to play that old parlour game in which you make as many short words as you can from the letters of a long one. Be warned - it is compulsive, especially as you discover that the Conservative Party can give you "teacher in vast poverty", or that if you dally with Michael Portillo for long enough, he reveals himself to be "a cool limp Hitler".

But this revam-ped version of the Collins Electronic English Dictionary Thesaurus does have other uses.

In fact, you only have to experiment for a few minutes to realise that ye olde paper-based equivalent simply isn't up to the job. For one thing, with a digital dictionary your fingers don't have to do the walking; the CEDT can find words instantly. It offers all the usual information on pronunciation, etymology and usage, but if there is a word in the definition you don't understand, you highlight it and you're whisked immediately to its dictionary entry.

To make life even easier, you can toggle between the CEDT and any Windows-based word processor. Type in the word you want to find or, if it is already in your word-processed document, just highlight it. If you have doubts about the spelling, you can replace dubious letters with "wild cards" - question marks or asterisks - and let the computer sort it out. The thesaurus works in the same way, and HarperCollins claims that both are compatible with its electronic French dictionary.

But that's only the half of it. With a paper-based dictionary, you can look up only the key words, but with the digitised version it's just as easy, and almost as quick, to hunt down every occurrence of a word in all the definitions. Since over 16,000 of the 190,000 definitions in the CEDT are those you'd normally expect in an encyclopedia, a casual word search can teach you a lot. For example, if you search for references to "education", you'll be given an alphabetical list of 227 definitions from AS levels to "the white man's burden". "Computer" yields 628. The en-tries are not detail-ed, of course, but you will find out enough about, say, Mandlebrot sets to decide whether you really want to find out more.

George Boole is also among those who receive an honourable mention. He gave his name to that ingenious system of including AND, OR or NOT in search commands in order to refine the search.

You can carry out Boolean searches with the CEDT. So, for instance, you can hunt for all definitions that include the words "computer'" AND "dictionary". It produces only one result: "user friendly" - a singularly apposite description of this genuinely useful package.

More details of this and their other reference titles from the HarperCollins Web site: http:www.cobuild.collins. co.uk.

For the anagrams quoted and many more: http:www.genius2000.com exanags. html

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