Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Dictionary - A Few Words (On Why I Love It)

My secondary school made us read dictionaries as a punishment. Seriously. Talk about rewarding bad behaviour!
Photo by Caleb Roenigk


Noun. Early 16th century.
[medieval Latin dictionarium and dictionarius), from Latin dictio(n)-.]

Branch I
1(a) A book explaining or translating, usually in alphabetical order, words of a language or languages,
giving their pronunciation, spelling, meaning, part of speech, and etymology, or one or some of these. E16

1(b) obsolete. The vocabulary or whole list of words used or admitted by someone. L16-E18

1(c) An ordered list stored in and used by a computer; especially a list of words acceptable to a word processor. M20

2 A book of information or reference on any subject in which the entries are arranged alphabetically. M17

Branch II
3 figurative. A person or thing regarded as a repository of knowledge, convenient for consultation. E17

The smallest dictionary I own
(and one of my favourites)
I've loved dictionaries for as long as I can remember. As a child and into my twenties, I was in the habit of always carrying a dictionary around with me, just in case I came across a word I didn't know. At my wedding, my best man gave a speech in which he said he hoped a dictionary would fall on my head; later that night, he tried to sneak into my room to take the Collins Dictionary I had stashed in my luggage, lest I take a dictionary with me on my honeymoon. Yes, I really like dictionaries, and it seems I've developed a bit of a reputation for it.

People often ask me why I love dictionaries so much. Specifically, why dictionaries? Why not, say, encyclopaedias? Or books generally? I do love encyclopaedias, and I am a bibliophile, but it's true that I have a particular affection for the dictionary, an affection quite distinct from my love of words and language. Dictionaries, you see, are unique; they are singularly fascinating works of unfathomable human endeavour and investigation; dictionaries are windows, offering knowledge and the promise of knowledge. With the dictionary, one can peer into the future as well as one can peer into the past.

For anyone that's unconvinced about the beauty of a dictionary (and I do get a lot of unconvinced looks when explaining my love), I would encourage, nay, challenge you to sit down with a good dictionary and read it for twenty minutes. It doesn't even matter which dictionary. Obviously I'm rather loyal to the Oxford English Dictionary, but there are numerous quality dictionaries out there: Collins, Merriam-Webster and Chambers to cite a few of my favourites. Sit down, take that time, and read it. Perhaps you could look up that word or phrase you've always wondered about. Why do we say someone is about to get their just deserts?  If one can be disgruntled, can one also be gruntled? Or, like me, you could just relax and read away, allowing the pages to lead you wherever they may go. However you approach it, I've no doubt that you will be pleasantly surprised, and maybe ... just maybe ... you'll get hooked like me.

My desk. Looking unusually tidy. And with only two of my dictionaries present.
Do please dictate your most lexical comments in the box below.


  1. I remember having the same habit, and eagerness to learn, when I started learning my first foreign language. In my case it was English.
    ( In our school system, back then, when you started 5th grade you had to choose between English and French. And then on the 7th you added another - French or German.)
    I still have that dictionary.
    But I wonder, since I started visiting your blog and enjoying your choices, how do you choose that word and not another ...? why dick (oh my!) and not dickens. Not that's anything wrong with the first mind you, just really wondering.
    Like I twitted that you share your love and knowledge with us is very much appreciated,

    1. That's a good question, Teresa, and I'm afraid I don't know the answer - I just choose words I like, that I find interesting, or that I think others will like and find interesting.

      As for why I chose 'dick', that was simply because I think it's funny that it's such a rude word generally, but with the slightest modifications it becomes perfectly acceptable in the politest of company. Regarding 'dickens', I did consider 'Dickensian', but I chose not to cover it because everyone knows it and I didn't really think I could add anything.

      And thank you Teresa - I'm glad you enjoy Lexi. I certainly enjoy having you visit and comment here : o )

    2. Knowing this makes your choices even more apealing... besides the word and all the knowledge you share I absolutely love your wit. I think that's the word I wanted but when we get to W I'll see if it is ahahah
      Thank you!

  2. Yes, it's all that, Eddie, and for me it's also because every word in a dictionary tells a true story about how people think. behave, change, ARE. Endless delights.

    1. Absolutely, Sally. Very well put! (you should really be a writer or something) : o )

  3. Nice one Ed. I'm with you on preferring the OED, but that probably comes from reading 'the Surgeon of Crowthorne'. Great book.
    And where did you get that tiny dictionary? I have a strange fascination for miniature books. I once saw a complete Bible you could fit in a matchbox.
    Literally blew my mind!
    (Not literally)

    1. Oddly enough, A.N, I have no idea where I got that miniature dictionary - I have a tendency to acquire books from all over the place, much to the exasperation of my wife. It's an English-Spanish dictionary, quite lovely, and quite impractical.

  4. Could this perhaps be another addition to yesterday's word?

    1. I don't think so, but the combination of 'Dick Dictionary' does rather sound like the type of superhero I'd like to call on in a tongue-tied crisis.

    2. Or even "Dicktion Man" when words are not clear enough!

    3. Dick Diction? The world's first crime-solving speech therapist?

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