If you really get into it – think of purchasing the hard cover. But I’ll warn you, they are tough. Think of them like a crossword that needs to be solved. There are proper referents, I do “mean” something. You just have to look deeper, think apart – it’ll come to you, what I meant.
I’ll only say thank you to my niece Gabriella, who painstakingly went over the copy and edited everything. Thank you! Here, I’ve reprinted the short forward (the print book will contain a much longer and well researched essay on the topic of “the dictionary”).
Enjoy and comments, your fav. definitions, welcomed!
About this book
This book was written over 20 years ago, over a few days. A result of my own “Foerster’s Syndrome”, a kind of lexical illness which I suffer gladly. Both an incessant need to pun and an uncontrollable reflex of seeing meaning within words. A kind of inability to see the forest (word) for the trees (the sounds / meanings).
But I’ve lived with it and learned to control it. Still, ever so often, this Jabberwooky, this moloch and primordial beast attacks and I’m back in the land of the idiot’s dictionary ……
I’ve written a lot about the power of words over the years. See my previous book – “The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Teacher” for those. I’ve studied and been influenced by all the creative writers / poets who’ve pushed the frame of reference in which language lives. Valery, Mallarme, Stein, Breton, Borges, Gass, Calvino, e.e. cummings to name just a very, very few. The Gagaism manifesto, born of the same time as the dictionary (at the end of this book) – stands as my own theory of language in the world.
I also must emphasize my own use of the word “dictionary”. This book is my belief that “We, the people” should have control of the language – not the Websters and Murdochs of the world. A dictionary is not a definitive source but rather, an interpretation. This book, my small attempt to put a dent in the prescriptive armor we wear as we walk the world, in the flesh born of “the word”.
I’ll end with this wonderful passionate appeal of McKean for a new kind of dictionary, a new participatory and living dictionary of meaning and metaphor.
I’ve long been one who “protests” the dictionary as a form of enslavement! It is a traffic cop, a false prophet saying and prescribing what words are “right” and which are “wrong”. BAAAAAAHHHHH
This delightful TED Talk is really entertaining and in her quirky way, this “lexicographer” pleads for technology to liberate words and give us a beautiful dictionary where words , ALL words are equal and beautiful and loved. It’s a great watch and you’ll pick up a few beautiful words. I love her wrapping up — “The internet like the dictionary is only words and enthusiasm!”. So true.
Recently there was a brouhah and huzza about the 1,000,000th English word. One was even plucked from the pantheon-Web 2.0 (I wonder who got the check/prize?). However, who cares how many? It is how they are used and most importantly, how words are sucked upon and LOVED! Dictionaries are just books written by people! Samuel Johnson’s collosus “A Dictionary of the English Language” comes foremost to mind – but whatever the effort, they are still human and just OPINION. I feel in love with his book and moreso his mind but the end result was I also began to see the dictionary for what it was – a fiction, a work of art (or trash).
If you are interested in challenging your own notion of “the dictionary” and thinking about how it really has harmed our language, the organic bloodwell of English – I’d recommend looking at a few of the earliest alternative dictionaries that challenged the institutionalized and imprisoned view of what is a word and how we should use it…. (and we still should challenge the OED – god! you even have to pay to look up one of the words they “own” – how can one own a word???) If I get the time, I’ll hunt up my own thrice almost published “Idiot’s Dictionary” and post an excerpt. Been awhile since I looked at this collosus I compiled during my poetic days……