Thursday, February 19, 2009

"You could look it up…"

I've been a bookworm since the day I started reading the NY Times when I was four years old. One of the best services my parents did me as a child was to not explain what unusual words meant; they would sing out, "You could look it up…" And I would. And so would my sister. We had the best vocabularies in P.S. 24!

To this day, my family has lived by the same creed: If the OED says it, it is so. This rule applied to homework, Scrabble, Perquackey, and everything else. It was a chore, but we always "looked it up" in the ancient huge black two-volume, itty-bitty-font-sized, "compact" Oxford English Dictionary my parents had from before my birth. You know, the one with the beautiful, heavy magnifying glass in a little drawer above the books? Someone would always caution, "Don't break the spine!" "Weeeee wooooon't!"

In looking up one word, my sister and I would get sidetracked and read another, and another, and then one more… I loved that dictionary! Webster's? Surely you jest. The only ones worse than a Webster's were the American Heritage or anything abridged.

I still look everything up, but now it's a pleasure. I use the online version of the OED now, which I can access through work, and is considerably more convenient than lugging those tomes from room to room. I have also branched out into other dictionaries – online and written. What can I say? I'm a freak!

My sister and I Scrabbled on my recent vacation, and were forced to refer to the online Scrabble dictionary since we had no access to the OED online. To one another's chagrin, we were surprised many times by nonsensical words and "wrong" spellings it provided. "Fe" and "pe"? Not words, as far as we were concerned – until the game dictionary counted them in. I looked up "pe" and "fe" in the online OED and sure enough, they are not there. I wonder who would have won those games, if not for the silly Scrabble dictionary! I kinda liked it… it was almost like word gambling!

Am I a word snob? Maybe… but no more than I'm a food snob. So what if I have three different olive oils and seven types of vinegar? I also enjoy cheeseburgers and fries…

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