Book ‘Em, Danno
by Drew Edmondson
Are books becoming things of the past, like transistor radios and slide rules?
There was a time when our Rotary distributed dictionaries to local schools. We don’t do that anymore because it is too easy to look up words on an iPad or iPhone (or Android) and nobody just reads in the dictionary to find out new words or obscure meanings to the words we know.
My office, however, overflows with books that I consider essential not just for my work but for my life as a sentient being. Of course I have a dictionary – the Merriam Webster Collegiate. Also the Random House Dictionary of the English Language (Unabridged Edition), large enough that it has its own book stand.
As a sometimes attorney I have the essential and omnipresent Black’s Law Dictionary, Revised Fourth Edition, 1968 – still pretty new when I started law school in 1976. It came in handy recently when the principle of enumeratio unius est exclusio alterius came into play in a court proceeding. Black’s not only defines, it cites cases!
Side notes: there is a game called “The Dictionary Game” that is kind of fun if you are kind of geeky. All you need is a good dictionary, paper and pencils. Take turns finding a really obscure word that you believe people are unlikely to know, say and spell the word, each player writes a definition that he hopes others will guess is the real one and the person who picked the word writes the actual definition. Each player then guesses – you get a point if you pick the real one and a point for each person who picks your fake definition.
That’s how I learned about googolplex and zyzzyva (10 to the power google and a weevil).
Webster also make a Dictionary of English Usage which can teach you the perils of “hyperforeignism”, attempting ineptly to give a foreign pronunciation to words being used in English, such as “coup de grace” or “vichyssoise”.
In 1852 Peter Mark Roget brought out his “Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facillitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition”, which we now abbreviate to Roget’s Thesaurus. Still helpful if you are engaged in prose or poetry.
My mother-in-law, Margaret Larason, was an English teacher in Fargo and Woodward, Oklahoma, and for many years gave a graduation present to each member of her Fargo Junior High graduating class. She gave them a hardbound dictionary and thesaurus. The gratification for those gifts, which my wife and her siblings continued for years after Margaret passed away, were the times we saw or were told about those gifts in the homes or offices of those graduates.
They kept them and they used them.
During the May 17th Rotary meeting we were told of distributions of new books to school kids in Oklahoma City. This is a wonderful thing. However, assuming the books are age appropriate, it is unlikely they will be kept and proudly displayed in future years.
The dictionaries were a good idea. There were probably good and strong reasons to move away from those gifts but there are very few good reasons that wouldn’t profit from further thought. As Tennyson put it “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.” Familiar Quotations, John Bartlett