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Unsexy but Useful: American Heritage Dictionary iPhone App

This spring, it will be 10 years since I graduated from grad school.

With all of the hoopla around the iPad, iPhone apps, Google Books and ubiquitous instantaneous information access in general, I keep imagining what it would be like to be  a grad student in English now.

Back in 2000, I was thrilled to be able to access OASIS, our university’s online “card catalog”, via dial-up at my apartment so that I could put in an interlibrary loan order for a rare academic book housed at the University of Michigan library, delivery of which would take 5 days at least. How quaint.

All of my massive reference books that I’ve been hauling around for a decade are now iPhone apps — like The American Heritage Dictionary 4th edition (with 60,ooo pronunciation sound files!), which I bought last week.

The fact that I’m happy to pay $29.99 for a dictionary app makes me a dinosaur, because it doesn’t seem like most under-20s particularly care about exact meaning or etymology or spelling. Words to them are more pliable and meaning is conveyed through spoken inflection and typography rather than through a varied vocabulary.

I would have loved having the American Heritage app back in 2000, when I was so worried about mispronouncing, misspelling, and misusing words. I would have come off as way more erudite than I actually was.