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By way of the briefest of introductions, I’m a pathologist by training and a lexicographer by avocation. I started collecting material for a new dictionary of medicine in 1984. Its focus was/is on terminology that had not been included in the four main medical dictionaries (the Dorland’s, Mosby’s, Stedman’s and Taber’s)…believe me there’s a lot of omitted information.
For the first 2 decades of the project, I spent an inordinate amount of time typesetting and “prettying up” the text to facilitate publication. Anyone familiar with Quark XPress will appreciate the Sisyphean labor entailed. The problem, of course, is that people who use dictionaries don’t, quite frankly, give a rat’s ass about “pretty”: They want a definition…that’s it…actually, that’s almost it. The consumers I’m writing for—medical students and physicians–want a definition at their level of sophistication (I’ve found that most definitions are “dumbed-down” to reach a larger audience), and they want that definition quickly.
One can say a lot of good things about eBooks, especially in terms of enhancing the reader experience for novels and narratives: you can change the fonts, the size of the typeface and the background for reading outdoors, indoors or even at night. But eBooks come up short when one is searching for a specific chunk of information, as one does with dictionaries. If you type keywords into the search window of the Kindle version of the Dorland’s, Mosby’s, or Taber’s medical dictionaries, each will dutifully chug away for a few minutes and then tell you it found no matches, unless you search one word at a time, which may give you a hundred or more nonspecific results.
Try it yourself if you don’t believe me.
You can use any combination of two or more words and the odds are pretty good you won’t find what you’re looking for.
Let’s say I want to know which immunoglobulin is commonly elevated in myeloma of the kidneys, so my search keywords are immunoglobulin, myeloma and kidney. None of the three e-dictionaries found a thing…but I know for a fact that the information is each one of those dictionaries.
Text-based works are not designed to search multiple keywords at the same time…end of story.
I assumed, as most people would, that if a text has been converted to an electronic format, it is searchable. It took me a long time to figure out that such is not the case.
By the time I realized this, my dictionary had grown to about 30,000 pages and over 100,000 entries. I was reaching a size limit; 2000-page dictionaries are unwieldy and the typeface too small to comfortably read. I saw no way forward if I followed the other big medical dictionaries’ lead and went bigger (page number) and smaller (font size). The format was unsustainable and with medical information doubling every few years, the train would derail…
I realized that the only way to access the information I had, would be to stop adding new material and copy and paste all of the material I had to up to the year 2005 into a database…which meant more Sisyphean labor…before I could continue adding material.
The cut-and-pasting is done. To give the reader an inkling of how big this project is, Dorland’s Medical Dictionary has 124,000 entries, as of today, 10 July 2018, the Dictionary of Modern Medicine database has 188,892 terms.
That number doesn’t include 194,000 aliases, which means this resource is THREE times larger than the Dorland’s, recognizing of course that the type of information and format of the two works will differ for the next few years.
I am convinced that text-based dictionaries–especially medical dictionaries–are dead men walking. This assertion applies in particular to paper products, which are obsolete even before they’re off the printing press, given the time it takes for the author/compilers, proofreaders, and typesetters to each sign off in turn and the book to be printed, shipped to the warehouse and sent from the warehouse to the buyer. Many of these concerns also apply to the eBooks…which is why I’m investing no further effort into standalone/one-off dictionary projects.
As of 3 years ago, all products carved from the Dictionary of Modern Medical database have had database functionality. The entries look a bit different than that of a standard medical dictionary, but it’s tradeoff that readers will find acceptable. I had planned to simply close down the eBooks, but Kent Hummel, my web guy, advised against pulling the plug on these works, despite the lack of updating. His argument was that some readers prefer something that looks like a book, an opinion based on the books’ continued sales. Thanks to Kent, most of the eBooks can still be purchased for your tablet computer.
Below, the user will find eBooks that I’ve published with Appleton & Lange, McGraw-Hill or self-published. You can read more about each from the pull-down menu which has a page for each book
The Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine
iBooks type Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine in the search window on iTunes
The Illustrated Doctors’ Dictionary
iBooks type The Illustrated Doctors Dictionary in the search window on iTunes
The Dictionary of Alternative & Complementary Medicine
iBooks type Concise Dictionary of Complementary Medicine in the search window on iTunes
The Dictionary of British Medicine
iBooks type British Medtalk in the search window on iTunes