The Dictionary Queen


Elizabeth Creith

I am the Dictionary Queen. A quick count of what I can see from my office chair shows me about thirty dictionaries. I know there are some lurking in other rooms of the house.

“Who needs all those dictionaries?” I hear you cry. “Isn’t one enough?”

You know, I understand there are people with more than one pair of shoes—shoes for golf, for walking (and isn't golf just a good walk, whacking at a ball on the way?), for dancing, for running, for . . . Okay, some people say “who needs all those shoes?” but I'll bet most of you own more than one pair, right? Am I right? Yeah, I’m right.

My workhorse is the Oxford English Dictionary. About thirty years ago I bought the microphotographed version for a hundred dollars. I know it’s out-of-date in terms of neologisms, but I hardly ever need to look one of those up. The OED came with a magnifying glass, which I didn’t need then but am ever so grateful for now.

My favourite rhyming dictionary is the Penguin Rhyming Dictionary. I don’t know how I’d manage without it. What if you need a rhyme for “aneurysm”—and who doesn’t? Choose from Spoonerism, plagiarism, mannerism and a dozen more.

My other dictionaries encompass slang, Cockney rhyming slang, medical terms, architectural terms, biological terms and literary terms. I have a dictionary of Canadian words, one of gardener’s Latin, a dictionary of anagrams and one of interjections, a couple of Irish terms and phrases, several dictionaries of history and biography and, at last count, four dictionaries of quotations, including Bartlett’s. You never know when you’re going to need the Irish word for bunny tail (“fud”) or a bit of cockney rhyming slang, me old china. (China plate = mate.) Run me through a used-book store, a yard sale, anywhere books are to be found, and dictionaries stick to my fingers.

At a garage sale recently I found The Canadian Reader’s Dictionary. It was written for users whose mother tongue is something other than English, and defines 24,000 items from “a” (the indefinite article) to “Zulu” with a 1,490-word vocabulary. (The 1,490 words are listed in the back of the book.)

Of course I’m a word nerd—have been all my life. I’m in love with Standard Written English, but I also like slang, idiom and dialect. Perhaps that’s why I have this addiction to dictionaries.

On the other hand, I have three pair of shoes, only two of which see regular use. I’m sure there are those who wonder how I manage. But heck, what do I need a lot of shoes for? Any footwear is perfect for dictionary-shopping in!

Books mentioned in this column:
The Canadian Reader's Dictionary by Michael West and William F. Mackey (Longman's Canada Ltd, 1968)
The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press,1971)
The Compact Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1991)
Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations by John Bartlett (Little, Brown, and Company, 2002)
The Penguin Rhyming Dictionary by Rosalind Ferguson (Market House Books, 1985)

Elizabeth Creith is a biblioholic and incurable librocubicularist. Not only does she buy, read, shelve and stack books, but she also writes them and on occasion makes them by hand. Elizabeth lives and writes in Wharncliffe, Northern Ontario, distracted occasionally by her husband, dog, and cat. The Scriptorium is where she blogs about writing and life. Contact Elizabeth.



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