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Sunday, November 27, 2022

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Off Topic: Curious and Interesting Words is a dictionary that sends you on a journey



I wish I could tell you that the older and more tedious I get the more I see the appeal of dictionaries. In truth, I was born old and tedious, and I have loved dictionaries forever. I am unable to escape their gravity – I open the book to look up one thing, and then something else draws my eye, and that leads to something else, and something else…

This is particularly true of the dictionaries I love best: speciality dictionaries. Do you have a Rhyming Dictionary? You must get one – its a life-changer, a kind stranger, a park ranger. Ditto a dictionary of historical terms, a dictionary of etymology. Spread out: I have a Whos Who in Ancient Egypt which is pretty well thumbed. And my favourite? The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Words, by George Stone Saussy III.

Check that last part. All dictionaries are wilful and secretly partisan – you cant really have language and definitions without this stuff. But a dictionary thats the work of a single person is going to be something very special. This is as much a way of being as it is a dictionary – its a private guide to what a certain individual finds noteworthy and worth preserving. I open its pages and its like being on the receiving end of one of those long transatlantic phone calls from the years before Skype. Its a gas.

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