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Don’t forget your dictionaries!

January 9, 2012

When I was still at school my grandmother gave me her thesaurus/dictionary, it had seen better days and a large section of ‘C’ was apparently never printed in the book but nevertheless this modest tomb fuelled a love for writing. I was instantly enamoured with the pronunciation guide learning all the exotic symbols and the sounds they represented – ‘O’ as in POT.

I know that at some point the spine fell off that great book and it was discarded. Years later I regret that moment of hasty de-cluttering and wish I still had the book that filled so many of my school day evenings, spineless or not. I now have several stand alone dictionaries and thesauruses but I rarely use them! today I noticed that I almost entirely use online reference tools often having several tabs open at a time as I search for mouth-watering words with the yearned for rhyme, meter or stress. These free online resources are wonderful and so immediate offering up options for synonyms, antonyms, near rhymes and even a button to hear the word being spoken! However I do feel a small pang of sorrow for my poor books – gathering dust on the shelves, every year growing less up to date without their entries for “retweet” or “OMG”. What I miss most is the random flicking that you can do with a physical book – I would regularly turn to random pages looking for words I hadn’t come across before. I’m sure there are more high tech ways of having a similar experience today, word of the day emails and the like but its not the same as pressing your thumb against the pages and watching them blur until a spread falls open to reveal its delights. No doubt I am being a bit rose-tinted about all of this and I certainly won’t be giving up my online reference tools – but I think I may remember to press my thumb to the pages of the physical ones every now and then and see what treasures pop out.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2012 5:52 pm

    Very interesting post, Joe.

    I’m a real books person, myself. Like you, I love the serendipity of allowing a page to fall open and seeing what turns up. And usually something unexpected does catch the eye. I don’t think one can get that online – at least, I’ve never managed to do so.


  2. January 12, 2012 5:04 pm

    I enjoyed your post. I have really happy memories of the first Petit Larousse Illustré that I bought. (I think I wrote about it once.) Right now I am so enjoying dipping into a brand new book that I received for Christmas. It is “Planet Word”, by J.P. Davidson with a foreword by Stephen Fry.

    Yesterday I published on out-of-print book “Nightingale News” on Kindle, so I am obviously also interested in e-books, but for some books a hard copy is impossible to replace.

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