Words and Numbers

Now here’s something you don’t see every day: Dictionary Stories. That’s the title of an intriguing little collection of “short fictions and other findings.” The author, Jez Burrows, was looking up “study” in a  New Oxford American Dictionary when he noticed a curiously melodramatic example sentence following the definition: “He perched on the edge of the bed, a study in confusion and misery.” Those few words sparked a unique idea. Dictionary example sentences (demonstrating usage of the word in a sentence) could be culled and combined into minuscule stories. The New York Times describes it as “sentences stolen from dictionaries and pasted together into tiny, delightful narratives.” Longmont Library doesn’t have this unusual book but will bring it over from Boulder if you ask nicely.

Here’s something else about dictionaries. They add new words every year. In 2018, Merriam Webster is adding 850 words and definitions, including “wordie,” which is believed to have been first used in 1982, and means what you think it means — a lover of words. Some of the new words have been coined by Neil deGrasse Tyson. You know, the man from Cosmos. He doesn’t like the word “nonfiction.” He advocates redefining “faction” to mean the opposite of “fiction,” because “nonfiction” is a negation of “fiction,” and “a word shouldn’t be referenced for what it is not.” Search his name at the Library’s web site; you’ll be amazed at how many faction books he’s written. His goal is “perfect sentence[s]” which result in “science page-turners.”

According to a recent government survey (if you can believe anything that comes from the nation’s capitol anymore), 9.4% of us between the ages of 15 and 24 read for pleasure or self-fulfillment on a typical day. The percentage increases gradually for ages 25 through 64, and then makes a big hop to 38.3% for folks 65 and older. That makes sense — we of the senior generation have more leisure hours for reading. Aging isn’t all bad!

May your May bring good books and time to read them.

*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in May 2018

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