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The One Place Success Comes Before Work …

February 23rd, 2015

dictionary-blogOkay, here’s a question only a writer could consider fondly: do you remember your first dictionary? Mine was a big, red, faux-leather bound Webster’s Encyclopedic, which my Mum bought in the early 70s. It was the thickest, heaviest book we owned and, along with Blue Peter and eggs and bacon, was one of the few things that never let us down. It was always there – always right.

There’s been lots of others since: pocket editions, abridged versions, one huge Collins Roberts French/English from the early nineties and, more recently, a Junior Oxford. But none of them will ever match that old Webster’s. To my mind it remains the font of all knowledge.

Of course, everything’s changed since 1972. These days, our Junior Oxford hardly ever gets touched. If the kids ever need to check a word they use the Apple Dictionary on my laptop and, having just spent half an hour looking about online, I doubt any of us will ever buy a dictionary again. All the big names are out there on the web for free. Oxford, Cambridge, Collins, Websters … there’s even some I’ve never heard of: Dictionary.com, The Free Dictionary, Your Dictionary, etc.

It’s a far-cry from the world of Samuel Johnson, who published the first comprehensive English dictionary in 1755. His book remained the standard text on the English language for 150 years, until the Oxford University Press launched it’s own project in 1879. The first Oxford English Dictionary came out in sections from 1884, completed in 1928. It’s commonly regarded as the worlds most definitive work on the language. But it’s next edition, the third, will probably never be printed. It’s more likely to be published as a digital document available on your Kindle, laptop, tablet or smartphone, but not paper (and if you don’t believe me, check out this 2010 article from the Daily Telegraph.)

Of the online dictionaries I’ve seen, my favourite is the Collins. It’s pages are clean and it’s predictive spelling (guessing the word I’m after) worked every time. Like all the others, it has a Thesaurus and easy access to British or American alternatives. But, where I know they’ve got to pay for themselves, most of the others are cluttered up with adverts and promotions. Dictionary.com actually had video ad’s on its home page, which I found very distracting – just what I don’t need when I’m trying to nail a piece.

So, that’s it for dictionaries. In the near future, abridged versions will still be available as books, but it seems even their days are numbered. Is that a bad thing? I don’t know. The world’s changing and, personally, I think the digital one we’re moving to is really exciting. In many ways, the old French adage still applies: ‘Plus ça change, plus ça reste la meme chose’ – The more things change, the more they stay the same. Looking back at my childhood I’m warmly nostalgic about TV shows like Wacky Races and Marine Boy, and I know our kids will feel the same about Club Penguin, Moshi Monsters and Minecraft. But I doubt anyone’s going to feel deep emotional pangs recalling their first online dictionary. Still, such is life. It’s the knowledge that counts. And at least there’s no sign of people stopping reading, which means we can happily crack on and …

Keep on writing!phil-blog-sig



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