My 8-year-old daughter came home from school last week thrilled beyond words about her latest treasure: a dictionary.
We spent over an hour filling out an extra credit assignment. We found how far the planet Saturn is from the Sun. We found the longest word in the English language (I don’t have enough space to print it here) consists of a whopping 1,909 letters. We looked up words to find their meanings, whether they were adjectives, verbs or nouns and how to pronounce them.
In short, my daughter was introduced, got comfy and had her first relationship with a dictionary. I, on the other hand, was reminded how long it has been since I’ve held one.
Growing up with a mother who was an English teacher and then choosing a career as a journalist, my well-worn dictionary was nearly as important a fixture in my world as my telephone or – oooh, I’m dating myself here – my typewriter.
Now all these years later, I can’t begin to tell you where my old dictionaries have landed. And I know I’m not alone. When was the last time you raced to the bookshelf and pulled out a dictionary to settle an argument over how to spell a word? Yeah, I know, it’s the same in my house; the dictionary has been replaced by a laptop, a smart phone or an iPad.
The Oxford University Press said the ever-growing appetite for the dictionary’s online version (which gets two million hits a month) has crushed interest in the company’s printed version. And by the time their lexicographers finish all their revisions and updates – which typically takes several years – the demand for a printed version may have dried up.
I must admit that makes me a little sad and more than a bit nostalgic. I love that as I type this, any misspelled words are immediately underlined. Printed dictionaries can’t do that. But there is something about spending an hour finding the hidden treasures in these dictionaries. For example, I learned this little nugget from my daughter’s new book: Did you know that after Richard Nixon graduated from Duke with a law degree, he couldn’t get any firm to hire him in New York, so he moved to California?
The books were a gift from the Eagle / Garden City Rotary Club. Gretchen Brown, the owner of Integrity Financial Investments and the Rotary president, said the club gave out 798 dictionaries this year.
“We see the kids getting excited about looking things up. This is a skill they need to know, whether they are looking information up in a book or on a computer,” Brown said.
Well, I love that my daughter is excited about her book, make that any book. I’m all for my kids being technologically savvy. But I also hope they will always treasure the feel of a thick chunk of paper propped up by their hands.
At my house, we’ll find room and make a place for that dictionary on the shelf. I’m sure it will look smashing next to my antique typewriter.
Lonni Leavitt-Barker, a freelance writer in Eagle, is a former television reporter and producer. She may be contacted at LonniLeavittlonleavitt@yahoo.com.