Dictionaries have entered the age of specialization.
The general dictionary, which has been a reference workhorse for many years, is being augmented by specialized dictionaries that provide information on fields as varied as literature, food, mathematics and banking.
The "Dictionary of American Literary Characters" (Facts on File), for example, "concentrates exclusively on American Literature." Edited by Benjamin Franklin V, the hefty volume "spans nearly two centuries: from 1789, the date of the first American novel, 'The Power of Sympathy,' to 1980, when Norman Mailer's 'The Executioner's Song' won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction."
The book identifies, in alphabetical order, 1,100 characters from "significant American novels, in addition to those in some uncelebrated works and in a sampling of best sellers."
For example, a look under "Ishmael" shows he was the narrator and sole survivor "of the Pequod's pursuit of Moby Dick in Herman Melville's 'Moby Dick.' "
Other specialized dictionaries issued recently include:
"Webster's New World Dictionary of Media and Communications," compiled by Richard Weiner. This volume's aim is "to attempt to define specifically the terms from the many diverse worlds of communications." For example, a "dingadinga" is a "low-power spotlight," while a "polecat" is "a small support for lamps used in studio photography."
"Food Lover's Companion" (Barron's) by Sharon Tyler Herbst. The fat little book contains "comprehensive definitions of over 3,000 food, wine and culinary terms." A look at "chalazae" brings this definition: "Thick, cordlike strands of egg white which are attached to 2 sides of the yolk, thereby anchoring it in the center of the egg."
"A Concise Dictionary of Mathematics" (Oxford University Press) by Christopher Clapham. The book is designed to "guide readers through the often bewildering maze of equations and theorems encountered within the mathematical world." An "algorithm," for example, is "a precisely described routine procedure that can be applied and systematically followed through to a conclusion."
"Dictionary of Banking Terms" (Barron's) by Thomas P. Fitch. "Some 3,000 terms related to banking, finance and money management are listed alphabetically and defined." For instance, "footings" is the expression used "for the bottom line figure on a bank's balance sheet: total assets or liabilities, plus equity capital."
"Melba Toast, Bowie's Knife & Caesar's Wife: A Dictionary of Eponyms" (Avon) by Martin H. Manser. An eponym is defined as "a real or mythical person from whose name the name of a nation, institution, etc. is derived or is supposed to have been derived."