two thousand twenty
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At a recent Wayne Writers Guild meeting, one member read her delightful thought-provoking essay entitled "Words" in which she contemplated the physical or chemical fate of spoken words once they leave our mouths. Wondering if they just go out to space and either float around the universe indefinitely, orbit the earth or explode into space dust, she reasoned that perhaps they might even contribut to global warming, among other possible phenomena.
While she was discussing the subject, I wondered if there might be a word heaven for cast off words.  If so, what are the prerequisites each word must meet in order to be admitted, and who would be the judge or gatekeeper?  Would cuss words, nicknames, slang terms, contractions and politically incorrect words be allowed?  Would there be a separate location for each language, and would nouns and pronouns go to the same place as verbs and adverbs?  And what about accompanying apostrophes, hyphens and pronunciation punctuation?  Would proper names be rejected since they can and are often recycled? 

The subject must have been on my mind all that night because as I went about my morning farm chores the next day, I contemplated the fate of out-dated, antiquated and unused words.  In today's world where most written commlunication is via texting - abbreviations transmitted over electronic devices rather than speaking in person or writing real words - I am sure that of the hundreds of thousands of words in the English language, only a microscopic amount of them are used.  That led me to think that our various dictionaries must be full of endangered words.  If so, can and should they be preserved, or would it be wiser to let them disappear into infinity, or wherever it is that dead words go. 

A while ago, a computer-less friend expressed the desire for an actual dictionary - a physical book.  While scouring the local bookstores on another mission, the perfect dictionary that would fit both decor and bookshelves fairly jumpted into my hands.  And, at a mere $5, not only would it be the perfect gift, but was also perfectly priced.  The off-white background with rosy pink and medium green stripes on the dust jacket would add a much needed splash of color in an otherwise bland color scheme and the book would not only be a useful accessory but also have instrinsic value. 

The most outstanding feature of the book was its size, which denoted stability, strength, resourcefulness, dependability and permanence.  Although it was of average hardcover dictionary height, the formidable 2200-page ten-pound monster was almost as thick as it was tall.  I envisioned having to find copies of Gone with the Wind, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Emper, and all of the Harry Potter series to fill the same space.  At an average of 80 words per page, the book contains about 170,000 defined words and including the words in the definitions, there could be a million or more between the covers. 

I shudder to think how many of the defined words in that book seem to be losing there relevancy these days in business, governmnet, media, education, sports, television reality shows and life in general - words such as ethics, politeness, patience, honesty, selflessness, honor, civility, respect, conservation, fairness and integrity, etc. - let alone vintage words long ago abandoned in everyday use.  I also cringe when picturing a dictionary of words used in text messaging as being about the size of the average chruch bulletin.  And then consider how many words are printed just in dictionaries and the only people exposed to them are college teachers, English majors (ref Garrison Keillor), dictionary fanatics and spelling bee participants. 

As I gave the final portion of hay to the last cow, one more conundrum came to mind.  Electronic storage notwithstanding, if a hard copy of a dictionary containing unused English words was published in a royal blue leather, or leather-like, cover with gold lettering and printed on off-white thirty-two pound paper, what a wonderful addition to the bookshelves of those of us who like books, history or interior decorating! 


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1 Comment to "Words"

  1. Jim Bush Said,

    Way to go, Beth! Fun piece of writing!
    (The Emperor)

    Posted on Mon Jan 31, 11:53:00 AM EST


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