Harrap's Shorter Dictionary English/French, French/English
Edinburgh, Great Brittain : Chambers Harrap Publishers Inc.
ISBN 0 245 60660 2
ISBN 0 245 50382 X
Reviewed by Françoise Herrmann

In the digital age of binary 1s and 0s, there should definitely be more millenniums, if only for the opportunities such events create for the publication of new dictionary editions!

The Sixth Edition of Harrap's Shorter Bilingual English-French, French-English, Dictionary comes in celebration of the new millennium, and in celebration (Y2k + 1) of the one hundred years since the foundation of the original Harrap Company in 1901, in Covent Garden, London. And, once again, this is a dictionary whose size (seven pounds, 2,304 pages, 305,599 words referenced), and institutional stature, belie its affectionate title: The Shorter.Originally, The Shorter was designed as an abridged, shorter version of the French Standard Dictionary. Currently it is still The Shorter, abridged version of Harrap's New Standard French & English Dictionary, which comes in 4 volumes.

This Sixth Edition of Harrap's Shorter comes with 2,805 new words, reflecting the vast changes that have occurred linguistically since 1996, the year of the Fifth Edition. These new words arise in the world of the Internet, e-commerce, telemedicine, and the Euro. As mentioned in the Harrap 2000 preface to the Sixth Edition "Now, more people go surfing on the Internet than at the beach." Additionally, and of novel practical significance, there is an article supplement about the Internet in the initial pages of the dictionary, which places these new words in narrative context. Thus, if you are in need of a "firewall" (mur coupe-feu) to protect your system from a bunch of "hackers" (pirates informatiques or "bidouilleurs") when your "shopping cart" (panier) is full, then you are in for a good explanatory treat, in narrative format. Similarly, if you have no idea how to pronounce "Vincent.Guerin@balthatzar.fr" in French, you will find "Vincent point Guérin, arrobas, balthazar, point F R," not to mention those familiar acronyms such as "ISDN" [Integrated Services Digital Network] or "ISP" [Internet Service Provider], which respectively and magically yield "RNIS" [Réseau numérique à integration de service] and "Fournisseur d'accès à l'Internet". And finally, if you are unhappy on a "low traffic" (diffusion restreinte) mailing list, you may want to quickly switch to "high traffic" (grande diffusion). And if you are pondering how to translate those familiar desktop features such as "drop-down menus" (menus déroulants), "status bars" (barres d'état), "toolbars" (barres d'outils), and "navigation bars" (barres de nagivation), then, again, you are in for an easy time. Easy on two counts: first, finding a hit translation, and secondly, finding a succinct narrative explanation of what these words refer to, how they occur, and where they fit in the domain of the Internet.

Beyond the conscious effort to supply updated terminology and translation, this edition of The Shorter, also provides a new and uncommon feature, termed usage notes. These appear as gray boxes in the listings to warn against some of the pitfalls of translation, such as false cognates and "false friends." So while you may be seasoned at translation, churning out an average of more than 2,500 words a day, sometimes five days a week, students may find these reminders of the utmost importance.

For example, the following usage notes are found in the text, for listing of the terms "engine," "engineer," and "umbrella":

For the term "engine":

Note that the French word engin is a false friend, and is rarely a translation for the English word engine. Its most common meaning is machine.

For the term "engineer":

Note that the French word ingénieur is never used to mean repairman.

And for the term "umbrella":

Note that the French word ombrelle is a false friend. It means sunshade.

Similarly, The Shorter presents another useful reference feature with the indexing of grammatical rules. When a term is subject to special grammatical treatment, the reference to such a rule is marked, in the text, next to the listed term, allowing for quick reference to the grammatical compendium that has been inserted at the center of the dictionary. Thus, for example, the English terms "kinetics," "economics," and "politics," as nouns with an "-ics" suffix, are all referenced to an English grammatical note pertaining to subject-verb agreement: "Economics is a difficult subject" versus "The economics of the project are to be considered." Conversely, for French terms, there are grammatical references, for example, for terms such as "Je, j'," referring to ellipsis, or for the terms "année (year), journée (day), matinée (morning), and soirée (evening)," referring to the use of these feminine forms, in contrast to their masculine forms " an (year), jour (day), matin (morning), soir (evening)." This referencing appears as bold characters, in parenthesis, in the listed text, and is easy to find in the central blue grammatical compendium section.

Finally, in the popular and new era of translation localization. That is, the era where it does matter whether the audience is Canadian, or Parisian French; or American, or British English; or Mexican, or Argentinian Spanish, it follows that the British roots of The Shorter also matter. Perhaps not to the extent of claiming mutual unintelligibility of these major language variations, but certainly for some of the finer differences. Thus, you'll find that the translation for "appel interurbain" is a "trunk call" which, in the U.S., usually refers to a "long-distance call"; and that "appel gratuit" is a "freecall," where it would most likely be "toll-free or an 800 number" in the U.S. You will also find that the warmth of your "édredon" (down comforter) has become an "eiderdown" or "quilt"; not to mention the indispensable rainwear: your beloved "bottes en cahoutchouc" (rubber boots), which you will discover transformed into "wellingtons, or 'wellies'", in British English. Thus, after stubbornly refusing to back down on the definite mutual intelligibility of British and American English (similar to Canadian and European French), you will almost certainly want to consult The Shorter for texts that require British localization.

In sum, The Shorter is an indispensable general bilingual reference tool for translators of French and English. With such features as the effort to stay current, including clear narrative support, usage notes, easy grammatical referencing, and British localization, the Sixth Edition of The Shorter comes as a terrific tool, that continues to fully live up to its fine, and longstanding, reputation.

Incidentally though, in the digital age of binary 1s and 0s, and for all who would rather discontinue weightlifting with their seven-pound Shorter, there is a Y2K +1 CD-ROM version of Harrap's Shorter, with such wonderful, and bonus, media-specific highlights and innovations as audio pronunciation of terms, conversion tables, and document templates. But this must be the subject of another review.

Not to mention the specialized Harrap's companion bilingual dictionaries for the Internet, marketing, and finance. All forthcoming reviews… Till then, happy hard copy Shorter! And alternative body sculpting!