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I've encountered a contradiction in different dictionaries regarding the definition of acreage.

Oxford Dictionary says

An area of land, typically when used for agricultural purposes, but not necessarily measured in acres.

Oxford Dict

Cambridge Dictionary and a few others say

An area of land measured in acres.

the area of a piece of land measured in acres.

Cambridge Dict

Longman

I usually use the Oxford Dictionary as a reference work, but I am not sure this time. Is there a way to tell which one is correct?

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    You misunderstand the Oxford Dictionaries entry (which is opaque, to say the least.) It attempts to show that the count noun acreage is sometimes used as a general term for a tract of land, however it is measured, and that is so. The entries don't contradict each other; if anything, the Cambridge and Longmans omit this valuable information. The lesson is: always consult multiple dictionaries! Jul 17, 2017 at 21:11
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    Of related interest at EL&U: Mileage as unit-agnostic term, Alternatives to idioms using imperial units
    – choster
    Jul 17, 2017 at 21:23

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As @P. E. Dant says in the comments, the Oxford dictionary is emphasizing that "acreage" is a general term for land, while the Cambridge dictionary emphasizes the origin of the term.

Consider,

It took years for her to become an expert in her field.

and

He wrote her letters because they lived miles apart.

"Years" and "miles" are not referring to a specific measurement of time or space, but more the general concept of time or space, respectively. "Acreage" is even more general because while "years" and "miles" refer to at least two years or miles, acreage could plausibly refer to a plot of land even less than one acre.

EDIT based on comments by @fixer1234:

If used as a term of measurement, must refer to acres. e.g.

"what is the acreage of that land?"

The answer could only be in acres, not some other unit of area.

See also: mileage

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  • Thanks. Part of the confusion stemmed from a more specialized dictionary that also emphasizes the origin of the term photius.com/energy/glossarya.html#acreage. But now I know. Jul 19, 2017 at 9:16
  • +1, but for completeness, it would be useful to add that when the term is used to describe measured area, the units would be acres.
    – fixer1234
    Jul 20, 2017 at 4:33
  • @fixer1234 is that really true though? "Her property doesn't have much acreage. The parcel is only 1000 square feet." seems perfectly valid to me. Jul 20, 2017 at 17:13
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    @KatrinaBrock, that usage is a generic reference to land, and you are correct. If someone asked "what is the acreage of that land?", the answer could only be in acres, not square feet.
    – fixer1234
    Jul 20, 2017 at 18:10

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