Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Dictionary By Kristen Harris

The greatest resource writers have is their own minds. But when that isn’t enough, a dictionary comes in pretty handy. At the beginning of the term Jessica went over the class syllabus with us, and I noticed on certain days we were required to bring a dictionary to class. I didn’t own a dictionary at that point. I know odd right? A Professional Writing student who doesn’t own a dictionary? I headed off to Chapters shortly after class and picked up my beautiful Student’s Oxford Canadian Dictionary, Second Edition. Up until that point I didn’t have much use for a dictionary, and if I did I would use the online version. Once I had it though, I found myself referring to it all the time. Over 185,000 words, phrases and definitions, how could any writer resist?

During our November 16, 2009 class, we did a live blogging exercise where we wrote ferociously while watching Erin McKean’s video about lexicography and the evolution of the dictionary. I have since watched that video again - I fear I missed some important parts while live-blogging. I noticed Erin was trying to help her audience see dictionaries in a new way. Everyone is used to see a paper dictionary that looks like a book. The future of the dictionary though will be stepping away from paper. As Erin says herself: paper is the enemy of words. I had never thought about this before, but I believe it to be true now. A paper dictionary cannot be updated or changed without the printing of a whole new dictionary. In this age of information, that is just not good enough.

The future of dictionaries will be more inclusive, more forgiving and more immediate. I am excited to be a part of the evolution of dictionaries and of words. As writers, we are the masters of words; we can bend them to our will and create new ones if needed. The future is definitely exciting for the English language and I encourage my fellow students to not constrain themselves to what paper dictionaries allow – just because it is not in the dictionary yet, doesn’t mean the word isn’t worth using. Write on!

1 comment:

  1. Although I own a dictionary, mine is over 10 years old; the word "blog" is definitely not in it! I was listening to CBC radio a month or so ago, and a Canadian writer and professor was describing some of the words that have been taken out of the Oxford dictionary to make room for more current words. I remember her saying that words like "chapel" and "sycamore" were removed. It made me sad.