I had a birthday this week. Probably means I need to update my “about” blurb [something I still detest.] It also means that I got to open what might be my most anticipated gift since Kirsten my American Girl doll, Christmas morning of 1988.
Several days earlier, I was talking with some classmates at the Wednesday department “soup kitchen,” and voiced my enthusiasm for said perfect gift. Imagine my surprise when, instead of the delighted-if somewhat jealous-exclamations I anticipated, my enthusiasm was met with dumbfounded-if not pitying-stares and the awed pronouncement; “Wow, you really ARE a nerd.”
What was this perfect birthday gift which so thoroughly cemented my geekiness in the eyes of what I’d thought were kindred spirits?
A three volume, 18-pound copy of Merriam-Websters Third International Dictionary-Unabridged.
That dictionary has been the companion of my forays into the English language for as long as I can remember:
At least 70% of the questions posed to my father by a person under the age of 10 will be answered one of three ways; “I love you,” “17,” or “Go look it up.” I have vivid memories of [after the obligatory groan and my best 8-year-old attempt at rolling my eyes] dragging the volumes out one at a time [the one you needed was always on the bottom] the ends clunking to the ground because I could barely get my hands around the spine, let along hold the thing up, and singing through the alphabet several times through as I flipped page after crinkly gossamer page full of words like anachronism and polydactyl.
It would be generous to suggest I completed even half of those vocabulary quests. Some impossibly long word would catch my eye and send me skittering off after Latin roots and colloquial usages; erratic, forgetful, and utterly entranced.
Reading Evangeline in 4th grade I remember falling asleep pinned under the covers, one massive volume on each side of me and one splayed open across my chest. I also remember the first time I felt my imagination crackle and raw green paths open up like a new dimension from looking up a word I thought I already knew…[do youknow what a druid is?]
And so it’s gone.
That dictionary has provided revelation for a change of heart and the ammunition to win many an intellectual scuffle. I’ve found words I say to myself when I need a smile [try “persimmon,” it’s pretty much my favorite] and words that have defined emotions I thought might tear me apart. And though a professor recently told me definitions might be the best way to kill a reader’s interest in anything I have to say, just yesterday, I used my dictionary to start a paper and discovered that the Latin root of “application” means “a joining to” or “attaching to oneself.”
So, there it is, I am unabashedly, unequivocally, most likely irreversibly a word nerd, and my dictionary is the best birthday present ever!