Posts Tagged ‘dictionary’

When I was a kid my parents had a huge dictionary that sat on a shelf on the wall unit in our family room.  It was so big that it took up the entire shelf, all by itself.  It sat right down near the ground because it was so heavy you couldn’t really pick it up (or at least I couldn’t) and you kind of had to slide it off the shelf and onto the carpet in order to open it.

It’s probably been almost 20 years since I’ve seen it but if I close my eyes I can picture the cover as though it were yesterday.  Whenever I opened it the spine would crack, making a very satisfying noise, and it had those finger holes along the side, marking where each new letter started.  The pages were whisper thin and would slide through my hands like silk.  I remember running my fingers across the letters, in awe of the fact that I had in my possession one book that held all of the words in the world (or so I thought at the time).

I remember running downstairs at random, just to pull that huge book off the shelf and look up a word, any word, it didn’t really matter which one.  I would read it over and over, rolling the sound of it around in my mouth, trying to memorize the meaning to ensure I used it properly.  Even then, I knew there were few things in life worse than using a word incorrectly.

My parents have moved three times since leaving my childhood home and somewhere along the way, the dictionary was discarded, along with the set of encyclopedias and the record player, lost to downsizing space and upgrading technology.

Now I guess we are supposed to look words up online, using one of the dozens of electronic dictionaries that now exist.  I really feel like it’s lost some of the magic though.  You can’t run your fingers across a computer screen and be inspired by all of the words your fingers touch.  Well, maybe some people can, but I’m more of a “hard copy” girl.

So the other day when I was cleaning out a shelf in my basement and I came across a smaller, and less fancy version of that dictionary, I took a pause.  It took my mind a minute to go back to the place in my memory where this particular dictionary existed but I finally got there.  I majored in Journalism in university and one of my professors mandated that each of us purchase a dictionary.  Not a pocket-sized one but a full-size, unabridged, Canadian dictionary.  ‘Canadian’ so that colour would be spelled colour and not color, which belongs to our neighbours to the south.  That’s neighbours spelled neighbours, not neighbors.  You get the idea.  And so I went out and bought one, used it frequently over my four-year university career and then promptly packed it away and forgot about it.

But for some reason I have kept it all these years, making move after move after move, packed in box after box and unpacked onto shelf after shelf.  I don’t know why.  I can’t even remember the last time I cracked it open but something stopped me from getting rid of it.

And the other day when I rediscovered it again, after all these years, I pulled it off the shelf in the basement and took it upstairs to the room where I do my writing.  There’s nothing pretty about it.  It has a bright red cover that has been bent and folded over years spent being shuffled around.  The pages aren’t smooth or shiny, but rather are kind of rough and, if I hold them close enough, have a faint dusty odour.  It’s also horribly outdated; and probably was even when I bought it.  The word ‘Internet’ does not have an entry, nor does ‘texting’ and ‘friend’ exists purely as a noun and not the “he friended me on Facebook” verb version that (wrongly) exists today.

But as soon as I saw it, I was instantly drawn to it.  I put it on a shelf right beside the computer so I can see it whenever I sit down to put fingers to keyboard.  Something about seeing it there inspires me.  Something about realizing all those words are there, all lined up neatly on pages, waiting for me to discover them, makes me want to write.  I feel like whenever I get stuck, I can just close my eyes, open it up and pick a word, any word, and use it as a starting point.  A starting point for something that probably won’t be brilliant and it probably won’t be amazing but it will be something, and at the very least I will be sure to use the word correctly.

It’s not the beautiful book I remember from my childhood but maybe one day I will have a writing room big enough to hold a bookshelf, a bookshelf with a space right close to the bottom that could fit one like that amazing book I remember.  In the meantime, I’ll settle for the one I have, and all of it’s 90,000 words.

After all, everyone needs somewhere to start.

startv., n. 1. to get in motion; set out; begin a journey; 2. begin; 3. set moving, going, acting, etc.
(The Gage Canadian Dictionary – copyright 1983)

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