Writing about our backyard requires words. Lots of them, of high quality. So I keep a supply of all the best words handy, and, in this house, they mostly live in the book up above, which, as you may or may not be able to make out, is Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.
It has seen better days.
I bought this particular piece of word habitat in 1983, from 710 Bookstore in Carbondale, Illinois. I was just returning from a couple years living a more or less simple life in the African nation of Malawi and preparing to embark on the new adventure of graduate school. I figured a grad student might need words. I don’t remember what I paid for it, but I seem to recall that it wasn’t much. It quickly became my constant companion, being carried around in a student backpack wherever I went, even though at about 1565 pages, give or take, it has some weight and takes up space, but I felt lost without it. Still do. Now it sits next to my main reading chair and also serves to support my coffee cup or wine glass, depending on the time of day. As you can see, sometimes it absorbs spills and dribbles and has become warped and stained over these many years, but the words remain safe and dry inside.
It is one of my favorite books. I seldom run across a word that I can’t find in it, although new tech lingo is lacking (not that I care much). It is skimpy on word origins, but otherwise pretty darn reliable. There are, I’m sure, better dictionaries out there, but this one has served me well.
It may even have helped save me from injury once, when I was biking to my student office one day and hit a piece of pink Tupperware with my front wheel. The offending bowl had been lost or tossed and when I ran across it a vehicle was on my left, so rather than dodge and get hit by a car, I chose to bump the Tupperware out of the way. But it did not bump away. Instead, it somehow wrapped around the bike tire, making it skid, and I went down in a heap, right over the handlebars, doing a somersault with a backpack holding said dictionary and a full thermos of coffee. I came up on my feet and reassured a very scared and concerned pickup truck driver than he really hadn’t hit me and that I was fine. Except for a tiny scratch on one hand, I was unscathed, and I suspect that the dictionary provided just enough cushioning to keep the thermos from bruising the bejesus out of my back. But anyway.
I mark every word I look up, as you can see, making a sort of history of my puzzlings and curiosity. It is extremely hard to find a page in this book without at least one mark, and there are usually several. 1565 pages. Do the math. I think I have gotten my money’s worth out of this old tome, and it’s still going strong. It’s a long-time friend.