Computers: Word search offers scant help for Jumbo: William Hartston brings ruminants' stomachs into play to test the mettle of the Chambers CD-rom dictionary

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The Independent Online
Street price: pounds 55 including VAT (Special offer pounds 44 until 30 November for those who first purchase a copy of the dictionary in printed book form.)

IF YOU cannot tell your fardel from your omasum, then The Chambers Dictionary on CD-rom is just the thing for you. It will not tell you the answer, but while looking for it you will discover much about the great advantages and minor limitations of the CD-rom over William Caxton's technology.

The principal plus is speed and versatility of search. You can, in theory, solve crossword clues, look up words you cannot spell and even find that precise word that is on the tip of your tongue: you know, it means having a nicely shaped bottom and it is from the Greek and it is a longish word with a 'p' in it somewhere.

Of those three benefits, however, the only unqualified boon is to the crossword solver. If you are looking for a seven-letter word, second letter 'a', fourth 'o', sixth 'l', it takes only a couple of minutes after you have entered ?a?o?l? in the 'Headword' search to come up with cagoule, kagoule and panoply as the only possibilities.

It is less useful, incidentally, for crossword compilers, since spaces and hyphens are included in a letter count. If you need a 20-letter word for the Bank Holiday Jumbo, a string of 20 question marks will give you everything from adrenocorticotrophic to syncategorematically, but will also unleash 'admiral of the fleet' which is no use at all.

For words you cannot spell, the wild-cards '?' (for a single letter) or '*' (for possibly multiple omissions) enable a wide search, though this may be as slow and perplexing as trying to look in an old-style dictionary. It is fast enough to try ?em?t*ry if you cannot spell cemetery, but 'psychosis' still causes problems if you are not sure whether it begins with a 'c' or an 's', let alone 'p'.

Finding words from definitions is also not as easy as it might seem. You will miss the above- mentioned attractive bum unless you think to enter 'buttock' as the search word, when you will quickly find callipygous (also callipygean): having beautiful buttocks.

With italics, bold print and four-colour coding to distinguish between headwords, definitions, grammar, labels and phonetics, the lay- out is extremely clear without the cramped look of a dictionary. Even the usual abbreviations are spelt out. As a bonus, the PC-compatible version installs itself with a direct link to the word- processsing program Word for Windows or Word 6 that enables any word in a document to be identified and looked up in the dictionary.

Two further road-tests on the dictionary led to one disappointment and one outstanding

success. Looking for the word that means

chopping one word in two and inserting another in the middle, as in abso-bloody-lutely, I had no joy with cut* AND word, or divid* AND insert*, and would probably not have thought of trying interven* AND word* if I had not known that 'tmesis' was the word I was looking for.

On the topic of ruminants' stomachs, however, Chambers Dictionary on CD-rom surpassed expectations. Typing stomach* AND ruminant* in the search field led to 15 entries. I knew, from browsing Chambers on paper that the third stomach of a ruminant is the omasum, psalterium or manyplies, but now I have learnt that it may also be called bible, fardel or fardel-bag and that manyplies may be spelt maniplies or (dialect) moniplies or monyplies. The fourth stomach is the abomasum, maw, read or rennet-bag; the second stomach is the bonnet, king's-hood or reticulum; and the first and largest stomach is the paunch or rumen.

I am still confused about the apparent equivalence of the words omasum, manyplies and fardel, while fardel-bag is defined only as 'the omasum'.

For anyone who enjoys English to the extent of revelling in delight at a language that has six terms for the third stomach of a ruminant, Chambers on CD-rom will be a source of endless pleasure and education.

Chambers Dictionary on CD-rom

System: PC-compatible/Windows.

Requirements:

Hardware: At least 386 SX

processor with 2 megabytes of main memory; CD-rom drive.

Software: Windows 3.1 with multimedia extensions.

Publisher: Chambers Harrap Publishers, 43-45 Annandale Street, Edinburgh EH7 4AZ; tel 031 557 4571.

Availability: Mail order, superstores, retailers.

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