Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

The joy of books

Posted on | January 30, 2008 | No Comments

We had a feature in the house I grew up in that I have not seen in any other house I’ve ever visited. My old man had a dictionary in our dining room, which functioned as a family room as well. That we had a dictionary isn’t remarkable, but he put ours on a small wooden stand, so it sat open all the time. Now I’ve seen Bibles set like this in some homes, but never a dictionary. It was on a pedestal in my old man’s cosmology.
In the morning, he’d have tea and eggs and do the crossword puzzle, the dictionary within arm’s reach. At night, if he hadn’t finished the crossword, he’d sit in his chair nearby, nurse a martini or two and visit the dictionary a few times to break through a particularly puzzling clue. It was an ancient Webster’s, and it was dog-eared. It looked like it had come across the Plains and through the Sierra on a wagon train. I’m pretty sure his parents similarly propped their Bible, er, dictionary on such a stand. Someone would invariably rush over to it to win a bet on a Latin derivation of some word they’d just come across.
All of this came back to me today as I walked down Market and into Stacey’s to buy a dictionary. We had one in the office but it was really a toy dictionary, utterly useless. Dictionary.com is good in a pinch, but it ain’t the experience of plopping open a five-pound tome of our wonderful language, part spelling, part history, part syntax, part style. Plus there’s no serendipity with an online dictionary. You can’t look up the spelling of “ichthyosaur” and glance over to see “idiomorphic” (having the proper form or shape) and learn something you never knew.
So I bought a big ole American Heritage dictionary. I hope I drop it on my foot someday to remind me of the gravity of the English language.
I also bought the Chicago Manual of Style and an updated Associated Press Style Book.
I have a 25-year-old AP Style Book that’s traveled with me every step of my professional life, but it doesn’t have the word “internet” in it. We have the Chicago book at home, but I needed these tools at the office to better help the staff work on writing and editing.
As part of that effort, I started a new blog on grammar and language because I didn’t have enough to occupy myself with Greeley’s Ghost, work and family.
Check it out: Big Red Pencil.

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Comments

No Responses to “The joy of books”

  1. John
    January 31st, 2008 @ 2:20 pm

    I like it, Ode to a Dictionary. Beautiful image of a warm home with well respected and used books.

  2. wretch
    January 31st, 2008 @ 2:31 pm

    I have at least 6 dictionaries. The other day I couldn’t find a one. Eventually, one turned up with the cookbooks, and I know I didn’t put it there…

  3. Kerri
    February 1st, 2008 @ 6:07 am

    I still have my Chicago (ugh, hate it), AP, and AmHer from the PBN days. I would LOVE to have a dictionary on a stand in the living room, though. Hmmm.

    Just a suggetion, check out the Gregg Reference Manual. http://www.mhhe.com/business/buscom/gregg/
    I much prefer it to Chicago, not because it’s more comprehensive (I don’t think it is), but it has a level of practicality to it that makes a lot of sense. It’s not as…scholarly and ‘right’ as Chicago, but I do like using it.

  4. Greeley's Ghost
    February 1st, 2008 @ 11:28 am

    I’ve never heard of Gregg. That’s a great tip, Kerri!!

  5. Anonymous
    February 11th, 2008 @ 10:35 am

    Maybe you’ll relate to this: http://wpcomics.washingtonpost.com/client/wpc/wpopu/2007/12/30/

    Great post!

  6. Anonymous
    July 31st, 2008 @ 1:11 am

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