I love a dictionary, the grand daddy of books, the one that had the place of honour at the library when I was a kid, whose cover seemed almost too heavy to lift, the words inside possibly a mix of magic spells. Words are indeed magic, strung together in any number of combinations they lift off the page and take flight, like a magic carpet.
Is a dictionary becoming obsolete? Do we no longer hoist the big book from the shelf and flip through its onionskin-like pages to find the word that has us stumped? It was tradition in the house I grew up in to receive a dictionary on our twelfth birthday. I’m not sure the reason for that particular age. It was the year we moved into my mother’s classroom at Alberton Central School where she would be our teacher and perhaps she didn’t want us to embarrass her with a poor vocabulary and feeble spelling skills or maybe it was just coincidence.
I have the 7th Edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. This book is now held together by duct tape, but I wouldn’t trade it in for any other, not even the 11th Edition that is currently available at all fine bookstores near you. It makes me wonder just what words are missing from my 7th Edition that can now be found in the 11th Edition.
I have a dictionary on my MAC computer, one that quickly delivers a definition, but using that resource doesn’t satisfy me. I love flipping through the pages of the dictionary for the word I am in search of, letting my fingers run down the page until I spot the word. There is something very satisfying in that process. My dictionary and thesaurus have their very own shelf, perfectly within reach when I sit properly at my desk.
The Oxford English Dictionary was first published February 1, 1884. The first dictionary of English words appeared somewhere around 1604, a collection of words thought to be “hard” at the time. Samuel Johnson took nine years to write A Dictionary of The English Language, which was published April of 1755, two hundred years before I appeared. Samuel’s masterpiece was considered one of “the greatest single achievements” according to Walter Jackson Bate, an American literary critic and biographer, who won a Pulitzer for his biography of Samuel Johnson. The Oxford English Dictionary didn’t appear until 173 years later. I guess Sam’s work was a masterpiece as it certainly stood the test of time.
I thought of publishing a book entitled “Aimee’s Interpretation of the English Language”. She had her own language, not exactly English, not exactly not. Her words seemed to make perfect sense, to her if not everyone. There was “bemember” and “begot”, a perfect balance for remembering and forgetting. “Bemind” for remind, in keeping with bemembering and begotting. “Lasterday” was an excellent stand-in for yesterday. “The hot time” worked better than summer. There were “scutterbotch” candies and “flutterbies”, because they do flutter by on their way to where they are going and they have absolutely nothing to do with butter. An “emo” was an airplane, though I can’t explain that one. She was sure of herself, pointing to the sky whenever she heard an airplane and declaring in a loud voice, “Emo, emo”, knowing her dad could be at the controls. Who can argue with that kind of certainty? Samuel Johnson’s dictionary had 40,000 words but I’m sure wasn’t nearly as fun as Aimee’s dictionary would have been.
I didn’t buy my children dictionaries; the Stewart family tradition died with me. I’m a bit sad about that, feel like I let the team down. I would leave my 7th Edition Merriam-Webster to my daughters, but I was sort of planning on taking it with me to the great hereafter and how do four people share a book. I doubt very much it means as much to them as it does to me. I love that book and I will carry it with me wherever I go and if I can only have one book with me when I board the lifeboat, it will be my 7th Edition Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It has served me well.