My first reference that I use for English words is Wiktionary. I primarily do so because it's a not-for-profit project, so I don't have to worry about it suddenly charging for subscriptions, or that it will have advertising that links to malware.
But recently, I received some comments saying that I shouldn't trust Wiktionary when it says some spellings are superior to other spellings:
I've argued with Wiktionay for years that it has no business declaring one spelling to be the alternative to another. They should use a heading that doesn't lend superiority to one form such as Spellings or Other spellings. Wiktionary entries vary as to how one word is given the "main" entry and others the "alternatives". Sometimes there's a Google Fight, sometimes it's first come first served, sometimes there's a small battle between who is right among British English and American English! Do not trust these Wiktionary labels!
Another piece of advice: Don't expect any dictionary to be prescriptive unless it's older than Webster's Third New World Dictionary. By this time all major English dictionaries published in Britain and USA had firmly chosen the path of descriptivism. That means they claim to describe how the language is used, and specifically do not tell people the correct way to use the language. For questions of usage you would do better to consult style guides, such as Strunk and White.
So now I'm wondering how much I should trust Wiktionary.
Currently, my thoughts are:
- Wiktionary is a single source of information. As with any information source, if you really want to be sure, you'd want to check multiple, independent, sources.
- Wiktionary theoretically has the same vulnerabilities as Wikipedia. These include people engaging in internet vandalism, people editing a wiki to push an agenda, people who are editing Wiktionary in good faith but who are biased, and lack of editorial oversight. However, as Wiktionary isn't as high-profile as Wikipedia, and Wiktionary is slightly more difficult to edit than Wikipedia, I don't think these are major problems.
- Wiktionary sometimes incorporates information from out-dated public domain sources.
- Wiktionary provides information that a dictionary shouldn't be providing.
With regards to point 4, what information does Wiktionary provide that a dictionary shouldn't provide? Is it merely being prescriptivist in the spelling of a word, or are there other ways it's providing information it shouldn't? For example, should I use Wiktionary to decide whether talking about "a Japanese" rather than "a Japanese person" is offensive?