The Chambers Dictionary – 11th Edition

ISBN 978-0-550-10289-8, £25 on the initial special offer, cover price is £35. Doubtless cheaper at online bookshops.

Many crossword solvers will buy this simply because by about the end of the year it will be the standard reference for Azed, Listener, and similar puzzles. So there’s little point in writing a proper review. This is just a quick comparison to the previous version. For crossword purposes that’s the 2003 one rather than the 2006 ‘rebadging’ version, as the latter wasn’t adopted as the standard reference by any significant crossword.

Front matter: Paxman replaces Bragg as the writer of the Foreword. Everything else seems to be the same.
Appendices: The same as before.

Size: same as 2003 in height and width – a tiny bit thinner but I think that’s down to newness.

Design aspects: page layout is unchanged. Front cover has a big A and back cover a big Z – a tribute to a certain crossword setter? Cover colour is of course the ‘house red’ used for all Chambers books for the last few years. Each letter’s first page has the letter itself in upper and lower case, then a lower case alphabet in a font whose name begins with the letter – roughly speaking, the best known font starting with that letter – Arial, Baskerville (sorry Mr Bodoni), Courier and so on. A few letters give a moment of fame to lesser known ones – Sabon and Xctasy Sans (sic), for example.

Content: as noted in Paxman’s foreword, some words have been removed this time. He lists Hel, Loki, FDR, STEP and the famous (for Monty Python fans) cheese Ilchester as examples. Making my own comparison, starting at the beginning of M, the first removal I spotted was the abbrev. mach. = machinery, after a bit more than a page. There are a few new humorous defs in the éclair tradition (‘a cake, long in shape, but short in duration …’) but I’ll leave you to find them by reading the foreword and cover blurb.

Biggest difference
: you now get a 6-month free subscription to – or the English Dictionary and Thesaurus parts of it at least (the site also has the Chambers-Harrap Eng/French Dictionary). This is not perfect, but does let you combine wild-card searches with settings for ‘Search In’ (the section of the entry – e.g. Headword or Etymology), Part of Speech, Region (Broad geographical areas plus ‘Dialect’) and Register (choices like Formal, Offensive, Old, Shakespeare and Spenser – but only one allowed, so you can’t look for Shakesperean cursing). Some of these tools will make the Listener a few notches easier for those who must finish by whatever means necessary – this kind of combined search wasn’t available with the 2003 CD-rom version. (If you’re interested in the website, maybe as an alternative to buying the book at all, you can get a one month trial for nothing.)

4 comments on “The Chambers Dictionary – 11th Edition”

  1. I haven’t seen it yet, but I wonder if they have done anything to address the problem I have with the previous edition – the words seem so cramped and crowded together. Collins and even the COD with its smaller page size seem so beautifully and clearly laid out by comparison.
    1. In a word, no. I believe the page layout in Chambers is aimed at saving space – for example, entries like ‘House of Lords’ get separate headwords in Collins and COD, but are part of the entry for ‘house’ in Chambers, though ‘House of Lords’ is in bold in that entry. This means that entries like ‘house’ can take several columns, and you need to read the introductory material to be sure that you look in all the right places. I suspect the people at Chambers would tell you that using the Collins/COD layout would mean a prohibitive increase in the page count (or a tiny font). The on-line version of Chambers, where page count is irrelevant, uses the Collins/COD layout.

      For those who’d like examples of the Chambers layout, see this ‘Look Inside’ on for the 2003 version. Choose the ‘excerpt’ section, which shows you the first six pages.

  2. > a tiny bit thinner but I think that’s down to newness.

    I’m pretty sure the paper is thinner (and, worryingly, flimsier) than in previous editions.


    1. Having measured the thickness of pp1-1800 in three editions with my trusty ruler, it is. 2003 56mm, 2006 52mm, 2008 49mm. But the paper in my 2008 version still survives for at least 10 secs if you lift the opened book from the desk by a single page in the middle.

      So 2008 will wear out faster under intensive use. But based on the state of my most knackered but still perfectly usable copy (1988), you’d have to do about four advanced cryptics every week to wear it out before 2013. For mad-keen barred-grid solvers, the dictionary & thesaurus combo for £15 a year on the website might be a better buy – the searching tools could save you thousands of page-turns in the book. For heavy use of the paper edition, my 5-yearly task of covering both new Chambers and (separately!) its dust jacket in transparent film is recommended. (Anyone who can remember being required to cover their school textbooks in brown paper will be able to show you how.)

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