On October 15, National Dictionary Day Eve, I came out with my confessions of being a dictionary dweeb. Since then I have received a variety of dictionaries from some thoughtful readers. One day soon, we will get into A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, which I received from a reader in Alaska (make of that what you may; we’ll need to see if “refudiate” is listed).
In the 10/15 post, I recalled the first dictionary I ever had, The Harcourt Brace School Dictionary, which I used in the fourth through sixth grades. I thought I had it around here somewhere but it was not be found among my childhood artifacts. I will say it again, I loved that dictionary. And yesterday I discovered that everything I know about grammar, spelling and word usage came from that primer. Which explains a lot.
My mother sent me the old dictionary for my birthday. It still smells the same as it did in 1970.
It seems that, when I went on to junior high, I passed the Harcourt Brace on to my younger brother, who wrote his name in it three times, along with a phone number and a note that said, “If not home, call back in 2 or 3 hours.”
Prior to that I had doodled all over the cover and inside pages. My friends had scribbled, Monica loves XXX, several times, and I had crossed out all the XXXes. There were small illustrations near some of the definitions, where I had written the names of people I didn’t like. One illustration is of a peccary and, even today, I couldn’t have told you what a peccary is without consulting the definition: either of two wild animals of tropical America, like pigs with sharp tusks. I won’t say whose name I wrote under that.
The real nuggets are found on the first 65 pages, before the definitions of words beginning with A.
Pronunciation keys, spelling charts, abbreviations, basic dictionary skills, age-appropriate etymologies, parts of speech, idioms, they’re all in there, along with a section on Spotting the Troublemakers. There are sections on variant spellings and pronunciations, regional pronunciations and British and American spellings.
It’s good to know that during these years, I wasn’t spending all my time reading Tiger Beat and pinning Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy posters up on my walls.
So class, who can tell me what inflectional forms are? The inflectional forms of a word are forms changed by adding a morpheme. What’s a morpheme? I need a refresher myself. I can’t even make out Wikipedia’s explanation. Expect a post on morphemes soon. Perhaps you’d like to write it.