Thursday, January 12, 2012


When “The world is too much with us, late and soon,” as William Wordsworth put it nearly two hundred years ago, you feel the same pinch about reading and writing some persons experience about money.  To be sure, you are not free of concerns about money, late and soon, wondering if what you have saved will last, and in particular wondering if you will ever earn more money either from the things you do best or the things you may, worst-case scenario, have to do at some future time.  This doomsday scenario in light of the email you just received from the Assistant Dean of Administration at The College of Creative Studies, wishing to iron out payment details with you.

You are concerned when teaching and writing assignments threaten to impinge on your reading for pleasure time, which is of a certainty not for the pleasure associated with leisure but rather the reading for pleasure associated with learning what not to do when you write and what to experiment with when you do.  You also are wary of your writing for writing sessions, where you go forth thinking you know what you will be doing, only to discover you are presented with other facts, other associations, and other directions than those you’d supposed you’d be negotiating with.

At such times, the temptation is great to take up where you’d left off from any number of books in a particular pile adjacent the chair where you tend to read during times of greater leisure.  There is one book in particular, a thick, outsized book of some heft that you despair of getting back to at any time in the near future.

That book is a tyrant.  That book is also a challenge, an inspiration, a Sisyphus.  You of course mean The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fifth edition.  Dictionaries, more so than the more close-to-hand Spell checker, are valuable to you because you came into the game such a miserable speller, one who is better served by his memory of how words are spelled (from the incessant number of times you have to look up the spelling of so many words) and his stubborn insistence on using the spell checker even resentful of it.

For some years, it pleased you to tell the story about one of your top favorites of writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was such a dreadful speller that he inadvertently gave the name to an actor of some ability and reputation.  Fitzgerald, an eventually lapsed Catholic, intended the dedication of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, for his childhood confessor, a Monsignor Faye.  He could not fucking spell Monsignor, which he rendered Sigorney.  Does that name ring any bells?  Think of the daughter of Sylvester “Pat” Weaver.  Go ahead, think.

From such mischief comes vindication and enablement of your spelling defects.  During the days of your first editorial rise, you hired as an assistant a young woman fresh from the trenches of Houghton Mifflin, who, she informed you, had just published a splendid unabridged dictionary to counter the dreadful Merriam-Webster’s unabridged third edition, the controversial and much reviled MW3.  Your employee offered to secure a copy of the AH 1 at a discount price.  You accepted and have been with AH through 2, 3, 4, and now, the fifth iteration.

When the world is too much with you that you cannot spare the time for, say, an Aurelio Zen mystery such as Ratking, you turn to AH5 to scan the pages, the columns, the no-nonsense articles about this strange, unruly, quite splendid language of ours.  There is a chemistry sparking between you and such a lavish, approachable dictionary, locking eyes with yours as though there was no question you should become lovers,

Soon, traces of peanut butter, avocado oil, perhaps even grapefruit pips will have contact withAH5.  Its pages will, as the pages of AH4 have long since acknowledged, become dog-eared, wrinkled, possibly torn and patched.  AH5 will bear you no recrimination; it will continue to provide you endless fascination, hours of becoming lost in the conversational cadences of the language that so buoyantly supports us both.

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