A Word about Words and the End of the World

According to some, this Saturday marks the “End of the World.”

Personally, I’ve lived through several “ends” — including 1999, Y2K, and others — and so far the world has not ceased to exist…yet. I’ll give you the update on Sunday, should we make it past the Apocalypse and the After-Rapture Party.

This “End of the World” stuff causes me to re-evaluate what material things I would like to keep, in case the “end” isn’t total annihilation and just the “end” of the world as we know it.

For example, my friends (who realize I’m super kooky) know I have six months worth of food stashed in my basement, along with extra propane tanks, and those quaint antiques called matches. I will also be able to brew coffee with a French press. (I also have a lifetime’s worth of light bulbs – incandescent, not CFL – and a stockpile of paper and pens and pencils.) Hey, I might be nuts, but I’m gonna be a prepared nut.

Let us say the end was truly near (I’m holding out hope for 2012 and a quick pick up from John Cusack a la movie of the same name); what would I take with me if I could only take one thing.

I have narrowed it down…

My sole possession into the End would have to be a pocket dictionary. If I had room for two items, the second would be Roget’s Thesaurus (pocket version). And for Number Three? A Japanese/English dictionary.

Let’s face it; we can live without a lot of things — TV, clothes, pretty shoes, steak and lobster, fancy jewels, and even my computer and internet — but I cannot live without words.

As a child, the dictionary was the first book I read. The second was the entire encyclopedia (1958 version), one volume at a time. (For those of you Gen X, Y or Z-ers, those books were what we used for reference back in the day.) Okay, even my own kids don’t believe I read the dictionary and encyclopedia, but I did.

Why? Besides the fact that there were only three (3!) channels on TV, like many wannabe upscale homes in middle America at the time, these were the only books in the house. We couldn’t afford to buy books, and the trip to the library was made only once a week. In order to fill the void, I would open the dictionary to “Q” and start reading and memorizing.

(Perhaps this is what made me a Colorado state championship speller back in 7th grade…or maybe I was just lucky.)

Even now, I will occasionally find a dictionary and open to a random page. This Sunday at the Flea Market, I located a fine pocket dictionary from the 1950’s, leather-bound with pages so fine and transparent that they nearly melted in my fingertips. And I sat there and turned pages for a very long time, wondering if I should ask the vendor how much.

Back then “gay” meant happy, and “queer” meant strange, and there were no definitions for “internet,” “blu-ray,” or “flash drive.”

I love rarely seen words, like ‘pettifog,’ ‘intuit,’ and ‘insouciant.’ On days when I feel I’ve suffered media overload, I’ll curl up in my favorite comfy chair with dictionaries of all sorts, muse about word origins, and plant the seed in my brain about using my new-found old words.

It’s all you can do in this modern age, on the apex of the End of the World.


One Response

  1. I love this, and I, too, am one of “those” people. I love words, and language, and precision in both. Unfortunately, this is one more thing that is going the way of the dinosaurs. Maybe between you and me, we can preserve it!

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