One of the most difficult problems nearly ‘ all lexicographers face is recording the word-meanings and arranging them in the most rational way, in the order that is supposed to be of most help to those who will use the dictionary.
If one compares the general number of meanings of a word in different dictionaries even those of the same type, one will easily see that their number varies considerably.
Compare, for example, the number and choice of meanings in the entries for arrive taken from COD and WCD given below1. As we see, COD records only the meanings current at the present moment, whereas WCD also lists those that are now obsolete.
The number of meanings a word is given and their choice in this or that dictionary depend, mainly, on two factors: 1) on what aim the compilers set themselves and 2) what decisions they make concerning the extent to which obsolete, archaic, dialectal or highly specialised meanings should be recorded, how the problem of polysemy and homonymy is solved, how cases of conversion are treated, how the segmentation of different meanings of a polysemantic word is made, etc.
It is natural, for example, that diachronic dictionaries list many more meanings than synchronic dictionaries of current English, as they record not only the meanings in present-day use, but also those that have already become archaic or gone out of use. Thus SOD lists eight meanings of the word arrive (two of which are now obsolete and two are archaic), while COD gives five.
Students sometimes think that if the meaning is placed first in the entry, it must be the most important, the most frequent in present-day use. This is not always the case. It depends on the plan followed by the compilers.
There are at least three different ways in which the word meanings are arranged: in the sequence of their historical development (called historical order), in conformity with frequency of use that is with the most common meaning first (empirical or actual order), and in their logical connection (logical order).
In different dictionaries the problem of arrangement is solved in different ways. It is well-accepted practice in Soviet lexicography to follow the historical order in diachronic dictionaries and to adhere to the empirical and logical order in synchronic word-books.
As to dictionaries published in English-speaking countries, they are not so consistent in this respect. It is natural that diachronic dictionaries are based on the principle of historical sequence, but the same principle is also followed by some synchronic dictionaries as well (e.g. by NID and some other Webster’s dictionaries).
In many other dictionaries meanings are generally organized by frequency of use, but sometimes the primary meaning comes first if this is considered essential to a correct understanding of derived meanings. For example, in the WCD entry for arrive given below1 it is the primary, etymological meaning that is given priority of place, though it is obsolete in our days.
Setting of the Entry
Since different types of dictionaries differ in their aim, in the information they provide, in their size, etc., they of necessity differ in the structure and content of the entry.
The most complicated type of entry is that found in explanatory dictionaries.
In explanatory dictionaries of the synchronic type the entry usually presents the following data: accepted spelling and pronunciation; grammatical characteristics including the indication of the part of speech of each entry word, the transitivity and intransitivity of verbs and irregular grammatical forms; definitions of meanings; modern currency; illustrative examples; derivatives; phraseology; etymology; sometimes also synonyms and antonyms.
By way of illustration we give the entry for the word arrive from COD. arrive’, v.i. Come to destination (lit. & fig.) or end of journey (at Bath, in Paris, upon scene, at conclusion);...