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Friday, 20 April 2012

How Oxford dictionaries define Bhutan

I am a regular user of online dictionaries, particularly Cambridge dictionaries at and Oxford dictionaries at I learn the English language from them every day. In my rare moments of pride, they have made me realise how little my knowledge of English usage is. A few days ago, I was curious to know how the Oxford dictionaries define our country, Bhutan. I was rudely surprised to find this definition: a small independent kingdom on the south-eastern slopes of the Himalayas, a protectorate of the Republic of India; population 691,100 (est. 2009); languages, Dzongkha (official), Nepali; capital, Thimphu.

I thought this entry was not fair. So, I decided to immediately write a quick note to them. This is what I wrote. 

Dear Sir/Madam 
I am a Bhutanese citizen and a regular user of your online dictionaries at This morning, I was surprised by your definition of my country, Bhutan. You have defined Bhutan as "a small independent kingdom on the south-eastern slopes of the Himalayas, a protectorate of the Republic of India...". First, an "independent kingdom" cannot be a protectorate of any country. Your own dictionary defines the word protectorate as "a state that is controlled and protected by another". Bhutan is not controlled and protected by another country. It is a sovereign country with a constitution, an elected government, more than a 100 years old monarchy, a robust army, an independent judiciary, UN membership, and so on. I will be grateful to you if you could kindly explain to me why you decided to define Bhutan in this way. I am asking this question as a private citizen. 

Yours sincerely 

And this is their response to my email a day later.

Dear Needrup Zangpo
Thank you for your email to Oxford Dictionaries and we are sorry if our entry for Bhutan has caused any offence. We have re-examined this particular entry and have removed the reference to 'a protectorate of India'. The corrected entry will appear on the Oxford Dictionaries Online at the next update to the website.

Best wishes
Juliet Evans

Although they did not explain to me their editorial decision on the entry, I am happy that they have re-examined the entry and decided to remove the reference to Bhutan as a protectorate of India. I am also happy with the promptness with which they replied to my email considering a large number of queries, suggestions, comments and feedback they must be handling.

For those who care to read on

Online Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries are the most comprehensive and exhaustive dictionaries I have known. Oxford dictionaries, I have observed, contain more root words and their meanings than Cambridge dictionaries. The word castrate, for example, is more comprehensively defined in Oxforddictionaries than in Cambridge dictionaries. But Cambridge dictionaries come free with phonetics, audio pronunciation of each word and grammatical information like parts of speech. By the way, I am using the free versions of the dictionaries. The paid versions have a lot more to offer.

Dictionaries are a rich source of lessons on language and grammar. For example, both Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries deal with definite article ‘the’ better than most grammar books in the town. Online dictionaries today come with a lot of free packages like English for learners, language games, tips for clear writing as opposed to convoluted writing, and so on. Online dictionaries are gems in the world-wide mine of information and knowledge.


  1. It reminds of a similar description of our country made by a reputed magazine sometime last year.It prompted me to write back immediately asking them to make necessary corrections which they did.

  2. Thanks to you, I visited the oxford dictionary site you mentioned in the post and searched for Bhutan and the definition seems not to have been corrected. It still says that it is a protectorate of India. :(

  3. For your info
    that dictionary also had similar meaning. I had emailed them and they removed in in 2006, not now.