Review of Dictionary of Chemistry on CD-ROM. English/German. Deutsch/Englisch by Gerhard Wenske

Reviewed by Thomas Hedden

Publisher: VCH Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Weinheim, Germany (at the time this review was written, this item was available in the United States from i.b.d., Ltd., which has since closed its doors and been succeeded by InTrans Book Service; unforunately, InTrans no longer carries German titles. This title can now be obtained in the United States from Barnes and Noble or ordered from the publisher or Lehmanns Fachbuchhandlung in Germany).

Publication date: 1994 (although the CD-ROM seems to have appeared in 1996)

Platforms supported: Windows 3.1x or higher; a network version (for Netware 3.12 or higher) is also available (the publisher never explicitly not responded to an inquiry about whether other platforms are or will be supported).

Hardware requirements: IBM-compatible computer with 386 processor or higher, 2 MB RAM (4 MB recommended), 1 MB hard disk space, CD-ROM drive, VGA or better monitor, mouse

Software requirements: DOS 3.2 or higher, MS Windows 3.1 or higher

Language of user interface of search software: either German or English (can be changed "on the fly", without any reconfiguration)

Documentation: Users' Guide in both English and German

Number of CD-ROMs: 1

ISBN: 3-527-29266-7

Price: US $498.00 from i.b.d., Ltd.

(Note: This review is the full version of a review which appeared in the October 1997 issue of the ATA Chronicle; there it is shortened to one paragraph due to space limitations.)

This CD-ROM dictionary is a single CD-ROM which includes both a German-English and an English-German dictionary of chemistry. It is not possible to purchase one direction separately. This is good in that the user has both dictionaries on the same CD-ROM; however it makes the dictionary quite a bit more expensive (US $350.00) than either the German-English or the English-German print version (US $252.00 for each direction). This review concentrates on the German-English dictionary.

Overall, Wenske's dictionary is excellent as regards the completeness of its coverage. If the user is unable to find a term in this dictionary, it is very likely that the dictionary does contain the term, but the user is simply having trouble finding it, rather than that the term is actually missing. And, if this dictionary actually does lack a certain chemical term, it is even more likely that the term cannot be found in any other German-English chemical dictionary.

Since the dictionary is on CD-ROM, it is difficult to judge percentage of "filler" words, although it does not appear to be extreme in either including or excluding them. A few examples of terms it lacks: die/der/das; drei; Himmel; Hund; trinken. A few examples of words it does have: Buch; ein; Fußboden; Haus mit Grundstück; Kugelschreiber; links; Meerschweinchen; rechts; as well as an ample number of subentries under Bier. The dictionaries by De Vries and Kolb (1978) and especially that of Gross (1992) are somewhat better at excluding such "filler" words.

The dictionary includes the gender of all German nouns, which is very helpful for German-English translators, as well as usage labels, such as {obs}, {US}, {GB}, {solvent}, etc. For many compounds it includes empirical formulas (no structural formulas; also no capability to search based on formulas: see below). It contains many common trivial names such as Lauge, Salpeter, etc. Unfortunately, it does not contain any other encyclopedic information, nor does it contain appendices, illustrations, or tables, not even the periodic table of the elements. However, these are of less use to translators than to chemists.

My only real criticism of the content of this dictionary is that Wenske occasionally gives uncommon meanings before common ones. For example, the entry for Benzin gives "gasoline" only as the fourth definition of this word, after "benzine", "naphtha", and "petroleum spirit"; this seems odd, since the meaning "gasoline" is so much more widely used than the other meanings.

As is the case with all reference books of its size, this dictionary contains a few typos. A few of them are: under hellgelb "rpimrose" instead of "primrose"; under Kalium-tert-butylat "potassiu-tert-butylate" instead of "potassium-tert-butylate"; under Leitfähigkeit /elektrolytische "elektrolytic conductivity" instead of "electrolytic conductivity"; etc. A spot check against the printed version found the same typos in the printed version.

The Users' Guide is in both German and English, and is quite thorough at explaining how to use the search software. Actually, for the user who is already familiar with the WIMP interface (Windows, icons, menus and pointing device, or mouse), the software is so intuitive that it is hardly necessary to look at the Users' Guide. The Users' Guide does not point out any of the potential pitfalls encountered in searching which are discussed below, except to point out that searches return only the first 32 hits or 4,000 characters.

Despite this dictionary's excellent content, it suffers from the same problems as many other printed dictionaries do in making the transition to CD-ROM format. In fact, it appears that the printed dictionary was merely put on a CD-ROM with a search program, without any thought being given to problems which might occur in searching, etc.

For example, the dictionary indicates alternate spellings by placing optional letters in square brackets (e.g., Amidosulfo[n]säure or Halbwert[s]zeit), but the search engine is unable to handle this notation. That is, it will not find either Amidosulfonsäure or Amidosulfosäure, nor will it find Halbwertszeit or Halbwertzeit, since it treats the square brackets as a literal string. To find these two words one would have to type them in with the [n] or [s] (including the square brackets). Since the search engine does allow the use of the wild-card characters "*" and "?" ("?" matches a single character), these words can also be found by searching for Amidosulfo* or Halbwert*. A similar problem is found in the way the dictionary cross-references obsolete or incorrect spellings. For example, the correct German spellings of English "octane" (C8H18) and "octanol" (C8H17OH) are Octan and Octanol, respectively (with a "c"). However, it would be quite natural to think that they are spelled with a "k" (in fact Duden 1989 spells "octane" as Oktan), especially given the high-frequency word Oktanzahl, which definitely is spelled with a "k" in everyday German. Searching for Oktanol will not find this word, since it is spelled with a "c". The dictionary lets the user know to look under the preferred spelling with a "c" through the entry "Oktan- s. Octan-". In a printed dictionary, the user who searches for "Oktanol" would find this cross reference; however, in a CD-ROM dictionary the user will not find the cross reference unless the search uses wild cards (that is, something like "Oktan*"). Once the user understands these potential pitfalls, it is easy to avoid them; however the software could easily and should handle cases like Halbwert[s]zeit), and it would be desirable for the CD-ROM version to have more cross references for words like "Oktanol".

Prefixes such as D-, (+)-, p-, etc., are also treated as literals, and are required to find words such as D-Sorbitol or (+)-Fructosamin, unless the search is done with an initial wild card, which takes too long. So, if the user is not sure what the prefix is, it is difficult or impossible to find the entry. The same is true for the prefix α- (Greek alpha), although the search engine graciously allows the use of Latin "a" in place of Greek alpha.

The search engine only returns the first 32 hits or 4,000 characters of any search. This is understandable, since it prevents the software from spending too long producing long lists of matches for searches which are obviously too broad to be useful anyway. However, this also makes it impossible to access some of the subentries of words such as Wasser, which has more than 32 subentries: "Wasser n /zeolithisches zeolitic water", "Wasser n /weiches soft water", etc., etc. Moreover, since subentries of this type are presented in reverse alphabetical order, the main entry for words like Wasser comes last, and thus it is not possible to access main entries for words like this.

There are a few quirks in the user interface having to do with copying and pasting text. Take, for example, the entry "Leitfähigkeit f conductance, conductivity, conducting capacity, conducting power". If the user double-clicks on the word "Leitfähigkeit" it is not selected (it is possible to select the word by dragging the mouse pointer across it, but this is much more laborious). And, if the user double-clicks on any of the translations provided ("conductance, conductivity, conducting capacity, conducting power"), then all of these translations are selected (not the word the mouse pointer was on at the time of the double click): here again, it is necessary to drag the mouse pointer across the desired word. However, it is posible to use the standard Windows Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V commands to copy and past text to and from the dictionary, which is not possible in CD-ROM dictionaries such as Termium, the French-English and English-French translation database of the Canadian government (Termium has nothing to do with German chemical dictionaries; it is chosen only since it is a widely used CD-ROM translator's dictonary).

Another peculiarity which is sometimes helpful is that if a search returns zero hits in one direction (say German-English), but produces hits in the other direction, the hits in the other direction will be displayed. This is not necessarily bad, but it is confusing to the user who is not expecting this.

On the positive side, wild cards can be used in searching, and it is also easy to have a search either match or ignore case. Unfortunately, there is no provision for Boolean searches, that is "Leitfähigkeit AND elektrolytisch*", etc., nor is it possible to search for combinations of words such as "elektrolytisch* Leitfäh*", although the dictionary does contain the entry "Leitfähigkeit f /elektrolytische". Such capability is provided, for example, by the search engine provided with Termium, although it is not easy to use.

One of the most unfortunate shortcomings of this dictionary is that although it includes chemical formulas for many entries, it is not possible (or at least I have not been to figure out how) to search on the basis of them: for example, it is not possible to find "carbon monoxide" by searching for "CO" or "<CO>", although the dictionary contains the entry "Kohlenmonoxid m <CO> carbon monoxide".

Despite the problems mentioned above with the search software, the search software appears well-written and is fairly intuitive to use. For example, it is fairly quick, as long as the Adapt Register option in the Options menu is unselected. When this option is selected, a "browsing" window on the right side of the screen is updated during the search to provide an overview of the terms preceding and following the term being searched for. It is nice to see preceding and following terms, especially if the word being searched for is not found; however this option slows down searches considerably, and the same thing can usually be accomplished by using wild-card characters in the search (which will produce multiple hits). The ability to turn the Adapt Register option off to speed up searching is greatly appreciated, since not all CD-ROM dictionaries provide it: for example, the search software of Termium has a similar "browsing" window which is updated during searches, but makes no provision to turn it off, which considerably slows down searches.

The search software provided with Wenske's dictionary has three more features which are not provided in the search software such as that provided with Termium: First, it is possible to enter "special characters" using the "ALT-0223" method; second, the search does not begin until the user has finished typing the term in the Input window and pressed the Enter key, and third, when there are no hits a message to that effect is merely printed in the Explanation window, which does not require any action on the part of the user. In Termium, it is not possible to paste terms off the clipboard into the query window (it is possible, but difficult, to copy translations out of Termium); the search begins immediately, so if the user mistypes the entry there is no time to correct it before beginning the search; and, if there are no hits, an alert box is displayed, which has to be acknowledged before beginning the next search. This makes Termium particularly obnoxious to use, since not only is the search slow, but every time you make a typo it is certain to produce an alert box saying something like "hyrdogène not found".

On the whole, Wenske's dictionary is very good, and it is easy to use, once the user knows its quirks. I almost never find myself reaching for my printed German-English chemical dictionary (De Vries and Kolb 1978) to look up words I cannot find in Wenske, and I decided not to buy another such printed dictionary which is widely used (Gross 1992). The CD-ROM version of Wenske's dictionary needs refinements in its search facility before it can be given an "excellent" rating; we expect them in the next edition.


De Vries, L., and H. Kolb. 1978. Wörterbuch der Chemie und der chemischen Verfahrenstechnik [Dictionary of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering], 2nd edn. Weinheim, Germany, and New York: VCH.

Duden. 1989. Deutsches Universalwörterbuch [universal German dictionary], 2nd edn. Mannheim-Wien-Zürich: Dudenverlag.

Gross, Helmut. 1992. Fachwörterbuch. Chemie und chemische Technik. Deutsch-Englisch [Dictionary. Chemistry and Chemical Technology], 4th edn. Berlin-Paris: Alexandre Hatier.

The review was originally written between September 1 and October 4, 1997. It was modified on November 3-4, 1997. Click here to see the original version.

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