Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Day 9: Why I Want the OED

Today's topic in It's Gravy Baby's 31-day photo and post challenge is to write about your most treasured item. Since I'm not sure I can pick just one item from my treasured Star Wars collection, I turn to my bookshelf to find one of my most beloved books. 

I'm reading a book right now called The Glamour of Grammer, in which the author, Roy Peter Clark, says that his two favorite dictionaries are The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language and The Oxford English Dictionary.

The AHD 4th edition,
was published in 2006.

I have an AHD, 3rd Edition, which I dearly love, because it doesn't just define words, it gives some word history and peculiarities of usage. Here's an example that I remember because of a personal story.

My parents grew up in Pensacola, Florida, and it's colloquial for people to use the word "carry" in connection with giving someone a ride. My mom used to talk about how, when she was in Spain, one of her good friends poked fun at her about it. The friend needed to go to the commissary or exchange, and my mom said, "I'll carry you up there." Of course, she meant that she'd give her a ride in the car, not that she'd physically pick her up and carry here there. That usage of "carry" is regional, and the AHD explains that. It makes the dictionary cool.

Yes, I am one of those people who can pick up a dictionary to look up one word, spend three hours on digressive journeys into word meaning, usage and history, and maybe, by the end of it, I'll actually get around to looking up the word I started out to look up.

I don't recall what I was trying to look up the day I learned the words "putti" and "étagère." I think putti was one of the guide words at the top of the pages. It's the plural of putto, which is an Italian word for a little cherub. I found étagère because of the lovely illustration of an ornate piece of furniture with shelves, and I see it all the time now on multi-lingual boxes containing plastic shelf units. A far cry from the gorgeous antique piece pictured in my AHD. has a whole lot of
putti on its étagère.
I discovered these two words on the same day, while working in our family-owned craft store. We had little ceramic cherubs and we had shelf units, and so, I used my new words in a sentenced and with a related action. I put the putti on the étagère. Go ahead. Say it.

It's fun isn't it?

It's been at least 15 years since our store closed, and my husband and I will still point to an angel figurine on a shelf and comment about the putti on the étagère.

I can't remember exactly how I got the AHD. I won a box of books from American Family Publishers, and I remember a red Webster's Dictionary in there, and the AHD might have been part of it, too. I know when I worked at B. Dalton Booksellers later, we had the same edition on the shelf and I used to recommend it when someone was looking for a good dictionary, especially if it was a graduation gift or something special, because it was $75.

While I was working at B. Dalton, we also had a two-volume set of the OED that came with a little magnifying glass because the text was so small. I want to say it was $150 or $200. I always kind of wanted that one, too.... Until I discovered the real OED. The one with 20 volumes.

All those words!

The OED covers word history, and usage, and includes quotes to show the words in usage. Oh how I would love to own a set. The closest I ever got was when an online store offered a set on sale for $500. It's going for about twice that right now on Amazon, and I think the price has come down; perhaps because a third edition is in the works or maybe because print is going by the wayside. It might as well have been five million dollars, as Scarlett O'Hara sort of said about the taxes on Tara, because we didn't have an extra $500 to spend on an overblown dictionary.

Sometimes, like this evening, I plug the title into my favorite search engine to see if any sales come up. I will own an OED someday. And I'll read it, too.

In the meantime, if you're looking for a good dictionary, I recommend one of these.

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