Thursday, August 23, 2007

woof world

I've been reading the dictionary again lately and have found some more interesting things. Yes there are the descriptions, meanings, pronunciations and all those other facts we crave and adore. But if you step back, metaphorically speaking, and really explore the book with a naïve curiosity you can find those beautiful things you weren't looking for in the first place. It all started for me with the Guide Words. Those two words linked together randomly and forever at the top of each page, telling us exactly where we're at, alphabetically. The first pair of these that caught my eye was:

macaroni madhouse

Hmmm. That's kind of an interesting find. Not only does it roll off the tongue but it conjures up boisterous images of excitable pasta.
I wondered if there were more of these two word chance poems so I dug further:

insane inspiration

monosyllabic moon

let's liberalize

tuneful turf

homosexual hooray

externally Ezra

hallucinatory handicap

arrogant articulation

Newtonian night

elf emancipation

llama lockup

flirtation floss

island itch

woof world

The place was nuts with 'em! Elf emancipation?! I love this book. Now go find some of your own.

Next I realized the book was smothered with fiction. The dictionary!? This holy reference book of all that is factual? That's right. Somewhere in the bowels of the dictionary company there are men and women writing fiction for our literary edification. I'm talking here of the usage sentences. Those short italicized sentences with our word used in them.
My old Thornton Barnhart Junior Dictionary copyright 1965 is full of the shortest pieces of fiction written. For starters, there's this woman Mary and she is all over this book:

They named the baby Mary.

Mary knows all her chickens by name.

Mary abhors snakes.

Mary loitered along the street, looking into all the shopwindows.

Mary held the baby.

Mary seems to be a popular name in 1965. There were a few references to Ruth, a couple to Helen but Mary seems to be the girl of choice here. Of course like most good books there were a variety of characters:

In a fit of abstraction Ed forgot to eat.

It was a lifeless party until Tony came.

Senator Tompkins is sure he will get support from the grass roots.

John's room was a chaotic mess of clothes, books and toys.

James married Ida.

It was time for some heavier artillery. The grade school dictionary has a simple beauty but I was ready for my Webster's Unabridged. This is where it got scary. Did I mention it was a hot day? And humid? It was. And so I opened her up and looked for the first italicized sentence I could find:

Time just seems to creep along on these hot summer days.

OK. So it's going to be like that, huh? This dictionary meant business. None of this windowshopping and chicken naming stuff.

Don't build your future on dreams.

The misery of his loneliness was now compounded by his poverty.

I hope to be myself again soon.

and so it goes . . .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like your game.

Dimple Direction and Healthy Hebrew, Piety Pimple and Turnip Twang are just a few examples from my small dictionary.