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I was trying to look up the meaning of the word "Languish", and as usual, I looked it up using Cambridge Online Dictionary, and got the meaning: to exist in an unpleasant or unwanted situation, often for a long time.

On the other hand, Oxford English Living Dictionary stated an additional meaning: (of a person, animal, or plant) lose or lack vitality; grow weak. It included an entry for the word "Languishment" as well, unlike Cambridge dictionary.

EDIT: I have read that Oxford's English dictionaries tend to be historical, embracing deprecated or obsolete meanings as a reference, despite the fact the they are not used anymore; so, as a foreign speaker of English, which dictionary should I use, especially in the light of the IELTS/TOEFL tests standards?

Thank you in advance.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Peter Shor , AndyT, Dan Bron, David, curiousdannii Sep 16 '17 at 0:37

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On request, I am converting my comments to an answer to address the part of your question about which dictionary to consult, and in particular this part:

I have read that Oxford's English dictionaries tend to be historical, embracing deprecated or obsolete meanings as a reference, despite the fact the they are not used anymore

And from a comment

shouldn't a dictionary include all the meanings of a word? because I have read that Oxford tends to be more historical, while Cambridge tries to be more contemporary, thus, the additional meanings found in Oxford's dictionary are somewhat deprecated and kept for reference.

There is often confusion about dictionaries with the name "Oxford". The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is a historical and etymological dictionary. It is the most comprehensive dictionary of the English language in existence. Traditionally it was a print book1, but there is now an online version, which is the most current edition.2

The OED aims to include senses that illustrate both the history of the usage of a word and its contemporary usage. Definitions and sub-definitions that are retained solely or primarily for historical purposes may be labelled "obs.[olete]" or "arch.[aic]" or "Now rare", so you shouldn't be confused about whether an entry is still a useful definition for everyday use.3

Because the OED has so very many entries (reportedly 600,000 as of September, 2017), it is updated slowly, so some entries can be out of date. Each entry in the OED Online is clearly labelled with most recent revision, so you can easily see whether the entry is likely to be accurate for contemporary usage or not.

So far as I know, the OED is the only English-language dictionary that aims to have anything like "all" the meanings of each word it defines. Unfortunately, the OED Online is a subscription-only service; fortunately, many folks can get access through their local or school library.

Other dictionaries are carefully curated to have what their editors consider the most useful words for their particular audience. For example, a learner's dictionary chooses words and definitions that are most likely to be useful for non-native speakers of English who are aiming to improve their vocabulary; a middle school dictionary will be aimed toward typical school children in grades 5-9ish.

Aside from the OED, there is a different set of dictionaries, also published by Oxford (the venerable UK university's press), collectively labelled Oxford Dictionaries (ODO, for Oxford Dictionaries Online).4 ODO is accessible without a subscription, and has different editors and different goals from the OED: rather than historical and etymological, these entries are for everyday use. You will find far fewer entries than in the OED Online, but they will all be fairly recently updated.


1 Actually multiple volumes—in my library the 2nd edition is twenty volumes and takes up 3.5 linear feet (just over 1 meter).
2 http://www.oed.com. You will need a subscription to access this site; see discussion above. Most of the information about the OED Online is taken from its public pages, which can be found here: http://public.oed.com/
3 Other possible labels include hist.[orical], poet.[ic(al)], and fig.[urative], and labels for special use within a discipline, such as Math.[ematics/ematical] or Ling.[uistics]. These are sometimes used in combination and/or with introductory language, as in "Now hist. and poet." A complete list of abbreviations can be found at http://public.oed.com/how-to-use-the-oed/abbreviations/#l.
4 https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/

  • Thank you a lot, what you said is well put, Cambridge's is directed towards learners rather than native speakers. I paste here the response I got from Cambridge Dictionary Facebook page (facebook.com/CambridgeDictionariesOnline): Ours is a learner's dictionary so we naturally tend to include words of a higher frequency that are in use nowadays. Dictionaries for native speakers will additionally include lower-frequency words and words and senses that are obsolete nowadays. Best wishes. – Rafi Sep 15 '17 at 13:09
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The Oxford English Living Dictionary is published by the Oxford University Press and is undoubtedly a reputable vehicle. However it is not the Oxford English Dictionary, which is considered the leading authority on the historical and current forms of the English language, as they are used around the world.

The online edition of the latter is widely available free-of-charge to many people in the UK, through their municipal library membership.

The entry for the verb languish in the OED has many different senses. And it may help you to look at those. In the interests of brevity I have not included all the examples, merely the dates between which examples of the use are available. (obs) means "obsolete".

Etymology: < Anglo-Norman and Middle French languiss-, extended stem (compare -ish suffix2) of

  1. intr. a. Of a person, animal, or plant: to decline in health; to weaken, wither, or become faint; to exist in a state of weakness or illness. In early use also: †to be sick of (obs.).> a1325—1997

    b. To live in an oppressive or dispiriting place, situation, or condition. With in, under.> 1489—1999

    c. To fail to make progress; to be unsuccessful.> 1652—1994

  2. intr.

    a. To droop in spirits; to pine or brood, esp. with love or grief. Also in extended use. Now arch.> a1382—1975

    b. To waste away with longing for; to yearn (to do something). Also with inf. Now arch.> 1567—2000

    c. To adopt a languid look, expression, or pose, as an indication of sorrowful or tender emotion. Now arch. and rare. In quot. 1714 trans.: to bestow upon with a languid look.> 1714—2001

  3. trans. †a. To cause to languish. Obs.> a1464—1606

    b. To pass (a period of time) in languishing. Chiefly with out. Also intr. Now arch. and rare.> a1616—1965

  4. intr. a. Of an activity or emotion: to grow slack, lose vigour or intensity. Also of light, colour, sound, etc.: †to become faint (obs.). c1510—2003

†b. Of health: to fall off. Obs. rare.> 1729—1729

  • On this occasion, OED certainly wins. However, being a historic dictionary, it lists senses/subsenses in probable order of appearance rather than in order of most frequent usage. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 14 '17 at 15:34
  • @EdwinAshworth unless someone is a native speaker, or have an educated command of the language, OED is probably not the best first port of call. – WS2 Sep 14 '17 at 17:31
  • Thank you a lot for your response, and as you pointed out, in addition to @1006a's answer, obsolete entries are labelled "obs.[olete]" or "arch.[aic]" or "Now rare". – Rafi Sep 15 '17 at 13:11

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