Going on a Word Hunt…

by Heather

Gonna catch a big one!

For as long as I can remember I’ve been completely fascinated by lexicography. I remember the second time* I went sans parents to the big mall in the city where I grew up… I was in seventh grade and I had saved up $20.00 for the outing. I had to hang on to half my money for the movie my friend Sue and I were going to see, and I was determined to get something fantastic with the other half.

We wandered around the whole place (probably twice), killing time before the show. Luckily she was as bookish as I was and didn’t mind spending a large chunk of that time in the bookstore. I don’t remember what she took home that day, but I bought an Oxford dictionary. It was totally awesome. (It was also the 1980s.) It was 4″ x 6″ with a 3″ spine, and I just knew it was chockablock with words I’d never met. We leafed through it in the theatre, waiting for the show to start, and I kept meandering through it in the years to come. I’m sure I looked up the occasional word, but that dictionary was something I read more for pleasure than for reference.

And I suspect that as a reader of this blog you’re also more than a little interested in dictionaries and the art of compiling them, so I thought I’d share this excellent TED talk with you. In it Erin McKean shares her passion for lexicography.

“When you think about words, you can make beautiful expressions from very humble parts. Lexicography is really about material science. We are studying the tolerances of the materials that you use to build the structure of your expressions, your speeches and your writing.” —Erin McKean

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*My first unchaperoned mall outing also resulted in a bookish purchase: The Complete Works of Shakespeare. It certainly sounded fancy and cultured, and it was handsomely bound (probably in leatheresque vinyl or something) with gilt-edged pages. How could I resist?

Sue and I divvied up the characters in Romeo & Juliet and performed the play (to the best of our hilariously limited abilities) in my room when we got home. I’m not sure we understood most of it, but we did have fun. And even when the plays were too hard for me, I did like the sonnets a lot.

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