OMG! Word by Word, Quiet Please and John Irving

Doncha love a good simile? Have a few:

  • A woman in high-heeled shoes is “like a cat on scissors…”
  • A set of teeth is “like a row of bombed houses…”
  • A woman so thin, she looked “like a stocking full of hangers…”
  • Kissing him as “like kissing an overripe plum…”
  • His signature was “like a snarl of thread…”

Word by Word: the Secret Life of Dictionaries was written by Kory Stamper, a Merriam Webster lexicographer, who turns what could have been a stodgy topic into an entertaining revelation of the construction of a dictionary. In addition, the book is chockfull [adj., prob. fr. choken to choke * full, 15th century: full to the limit] of interesting information. Would you have guessed that the first “modern dictionary”, one aimed at everyone, not only scholars, and included everyday words, not just fancy ones, was published in 1721? Plus, it introduced word histories, usage notes, and stress marks so people could pronounce words they’d never heard. Another tidbit from Stamper: When was “OMG” first used in correspondence? The answer is below.

Scott Douglas’s Quiet Please is an account of his librarian career and a history of libraries. He says children were not allowed to use public libraries until the 1850s. None other than Melvil Dewey advocated the ban on kids; he argued they would be too disruptive and destructive. Times change, fortunately. See the happy young cardholders nowadays, checking out armloads of books and taking part in programs the Longmont Library thinks up just for them. Wouldn’t Mr. D be shocked and awed!

John Irving, in a book for neophyte writers wrote: “I think of the reader as far more intelligent than I am, but a child — a kind of hyperactive prodigy, a reading wizard. Interest this child and he will put up with anything — he will understand everything too. But fail to seize and hold this child’s attention at the beginning, and he will never come back to you. This is your reader, paradoxically, a genius with the concentration span of a rabbit.”

“OMG” appeared in a letter to Winston Churchill in 1917. OMG!

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in October 2017

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