What’s the worst dictionary in the world? It appears to be Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language: Handy School and Office Edition, published in the late 1970s by Book-Craft Guild, Inc. While on vacation in 1994, Christopher McManus of Silver Spring, Md., had to rely on HSOE to arbitrate word games, and he quickly discovered that it had no entry for cow, die, dig, era, get, hat, law, let, may, new, now, off, old, one, run, see, set, top, two, who, why, or you. In fact, of 1,850 common three- and four-letter words that McManus found listed unanimously in seven other dictionaries, HSOE omitted fully 46 percent. At the same time it included such erudite entries as dhow, gyve, pteridophyte, and quipu.
“To find took, one must know to look under take,” McManus writes, “and disc is listed as a variant only at the disk entry.” The volume includes a captioned illustration of a raft, but no entry for raft!
It’s not clear what happened, but McManus suspects that the book was assembled from blocks of typeset copy, about 40 percent of which disappeared during publication. “Since the erstwhile publisher, Book-Craft Guild, is not listed in current publishing directories, definitive explanations are not available.”
(Christopher McManus, “The World’s Worst Dictionary,” Word Ways, February 1995)
(Note that this doesn’t indict all Webster’s dictionaries — most invoke Webster’s name only for marketing purposes.)