Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Son-of-a-bitch list

This is the time of year traditionally associated with giving gifts and cynical Republican filibusters. I was reminded of the former while having lunch with one of my long-time friends and his oldest son and daughter. I am reminded of the latter on an almost daily basis and have taken of late to sending emails to one of my senators in which I congratulate her for her unwavering support of President Bush and her equally unwavering avoidance of supporting her base of voters. Sarcasm availeth me not, in reply I get email informing me that Senator Feinstein is vitally interested in my opinions and that she is too busy at the moment, working to prevent legislative mischief to give me a more specific reply.

Although he has written some forty books (and just contracted for yet another) my old pal clearly enjoys painting portraits and executing whimsical and imaginative trompe l'oeil. His son has some talent for painting, his daughter is a remarkable talent, preparing even now for a new showing. Thanks to both Number One Son and Number One Daughter, I have no problems with what to get when gift occasions arise. I know which brushes, and which brand of cobalt blue or alizeran crimson make the final cut in his estimation.

At this very lunch, he called me a son of a bitch with the kind of affection a friend can produce when using this Neo-Homeric cognomen. "This son of a bitch," he explained, "gave me a dictionary that is more readable and intriguing than a Trollope novel. Every time I look up a word, I'm in for solid hour of reading and cross reference."

The dictionary was The American Heritage Unabridged, third edition, which happens to be my own favorite. But the greater point is that the gift goes back at least five years, possibly even longer. The greater point is that I have never been a son of a bitch for, say, a model train set, brushes of mink hair, tubes of stunning color, even a splendid catalogue from an El Grecco exhibit, only for this one dictionary which, I have to admit, it pretty wonderful.

Number One Son nods gravely as he points out that dictionaries are headed toward the cusp of extinction thanks to the growing tendency to look for definitions on line. Although I frequently consult the AH3 I admit to checking the Merriam-Webster's New Collegiate, which I believe to be the standard lexicon used by most American publishers. When I was coming up through the ranks in publishing, it was unthinkable not to have the MWNC and a CMOS, The Chicago Manual of Style, at your desk.

And at home, there was that other great dictionary, one of the best American dictionaries ever until AH3 came along; that was the Merriam-Webster's Unabridged, second addition. MW2. Ave atque vale.

I have some reasonable chance of becoming a son of a bitch this year because I happened by the merest chance on a catalog from a company in Virginia that purveys Spanish food stuffs and olive oil, the most item being a Serrano ham, which Mr. Conrad waxes rhapsodic about on occasion.

Will I make the son-of-a-bitch plateau this Christmas?


lettuce said...

most amusing - and good luck on reaching that plateau. It sounds as though you are an excellent gift-giver.

and this reminds me that I really really need to buy myself a new, decent dictionary, the one I have is SO many years out of date. As is my thesaurus (tho I still love it).

I'm playing scrabble online with some friends at the moment and the game uses some bizarre and unfeasible dictionary which allows not only proper nouns but also words such as "prez" ???? Now, thats not right.

R.L. Bourges said...

follow-up to lettuce: if it allows "prez", maybe it allows blogspot's word verification combinations too? Such as, let's see here,

Myself, I'll take the dictionary, Shelly, and place you on any list you want.

(But if I hear one more "Ho-ho-ho", I may get violent.)