Monday, February 14, 2011


The old-fashioned dictionary is in danger of extinction as the appeal of automated information grows.  I have on my desk a Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, published in 1976.  The binding is broken.  The front sheets are squished.  The cover is tattered with straggly linen threads.  I use it daily.  While others use the instant electronic version, I prefer the real thing.

There is no sentiment in computer-based dictionaries.  I open my dictionary and flutter through the tissue-like pages.  The whole experience combines the tactile sensation of the rough linen cover juxtaposed with the soft and fragile pages, the gold-embossed black and shiny finger tabs--two letters to a tab, the musty smell of the pages after all these years, and the sound of the flump, flump as many pages at a time fall on each other. I love to read the word, the pronunciation, the part of speech, the etymology, and the meaning.  The computer-based version provides a very narrow scope of information and no sound but the click of the mouse.

Words were well-honored in my childhood home.  My father, a minister, did his business through weekly sermons and newsletters.  His sermon was prepared in the hallowed privacy of his study, which no one dared enter on Saturday.  The weekly newsletter, however, was prepared without the need for quiet deliberation as we children raced through.  He would consult his five-inch-thick Oxford dictionary to check a word.  This dictionary--still in his office today--sat on a large wooden swivel stand, and he stooped a little to make his inquiry.

I would like to think that I have passed on my love of the dictionary to my children.  However, they are creatures of the electronic age.  When I said “look it up,” they groaned and beseeched me to tell them.  As a rule, I looked it up and put the dictionary under their noses.  It isn’t the same as thumbing through the pages themselves, but they were forced at least to experience the musty smell and peruse the page without the use of the mouse.  They may grow into this appreciation, I hope, as I will persist.

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