Let me guess, you didn’t know that today, October 16th, is the day where avid dictionary-lovers cling to their dusty tomes and reminiscence about the days when students were taught how to decipher the pronunciation key and how to use catchwords as the ‘quick search’ feature before there were such things a ‘quick search’ features. But don’t worry! You don’t have to be a lexicographer to enjoy today.
Dictionary Day shares its day with one of the celebrities of the dictionary world (the word celebrity, of course, is always relative: look it up!): Noah Webster, a man largely responsible for causing fights between family members when playing Scrabble (“What do you mean hollar isn’t in the dictionary? It’s a word. Like down in the hollar!”).
You probably don’t remember the days before Google or Dictionary.com when if you wanted to know how to spell something or needed to find its definition that you had to lug out the big red book with Merriam-Webster emblazoned in gold on the cover like the seal of some secret society whose sole mission was to protect words from an oncoming apocalypse where only cockroaches and antiquated words hither swithly avaunt into the sunset.
So, why should we continue to celebrate a piece of writing that is more likely to be used as a doorstop rather than be read? Because, like most things, it’s not about the packaging: it’s about the contents. Words! Beautiful amazing words. Webster devoted his entire professional career so that you could call your favorite professor’s voice sonorous; your least favorite cafeteria item odious; and the odd day when you get out of class five minutes early exhilarating.
And digital dictionaries have actually brought more people to these words than the printed loadstones that Webster had to work with. You can now get a ‘word of the day‘ that will tell you divarication means on one day and flapdoodle means the next. There are even ‘word of the day’ apps that will send fantastic words to your phone, so you can impress everyone you know by correctly using indemnify in a sentence.
There are no rules for celebrating Dictionary Day (none that I could find at least in my albeit very cursory internet search), and rather than tell you all to pick up your dictionary and start with aardvark, I would encourage you to find a couple of new favorite words and use them liberally: lascivious, masticate, garrulous, bellicose, egalitarian, caveat.
So go on and engage in some word play!
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Melissa Wehler, PhD. serves as the Assistant Dean of General Education and Professor of English at Central Penn College where she teaches classes on writing, literature, and film. Her academic writing has been published in several essay collections including Demons of the Body and Mind, Transnational Gothic , and A Quest of Her Own: Essays on the Female Hero in Modern Fantasy where she discusses topics including madness, disability studies, the gothic, and nationalism.