Wednesday, February 11, 2009

11: wordbook

I got to hang out with my mom and dad over the weekend, and we reminisced about some early instances of my verbophilia. 

For my fifth birthday my parents gave me a dictionary. A hefty hardcover collegiate dictionary. Now, before you go wondering what on Earth my parents were thinking, I would encourage you to shift your focus to the fact that I asked for a dictionary. Yes, hello! I'm the weird one here. We had a dictionary in the house, of course, but I wanted one of my own that I could keep by my bedside in case I needed to look up a word while reading under the covers at night.

And what did I do when I got that dictionary? I examined the preliminary pages and decided that it would be fun to memorize the Greek alphabet that was listed there. So I did. And it was. And then I took to reciting it backwards. Just for the heck of it. So, you see, in this context, it isn't terribly odd that I used to spend many an evening helping Claire study for her ancient Greek classes. Not only that, but I enjoyed it.

But I digress (is that word of Greek or Latin origin?) Some time before I graduated to that serious dictionary , my mother surprised me with a copy of Richard Scarry's Best Picture Dictionary Ever. When Mom told me what a dictionary was and that she had one for me, my eyes lit up (or so the story goes) and I exclaimed, "You mean there's a whole book with nothing but words in it?!?" This is a ridiculous question, of course, since most books in fact consist entirely of words, but just go with me on this. I was really excited by this dictionary concept. 

I had just gotten out of the bath. Normally, getting dressed immediately follows bathing. But that day there was something far more important to tend to. Wrapped in my bath towel, I crawled into bed and spent all morning and part of the afternoon reading the dictionary. There. I said it.

The German word for dictionary is Wörterbuch: wordbook (Wörter, words, plural of Wort; Buch, book). One of the things I love about German is its generous allowance for compound words, which results in some really elegant and often intuitive combinations. Like Wörterbuch, for instance. Or the word for vocabulary: Wortschatz (Schatz=treasure). Airplane? Flugzeug, flying stuff.

There I go again. And that's barely the start of it. Linguistic curiosities are the kinds of things I find entertaining. Sometimes I seek them out; sometimes they find me. Either way, language has always enjoyed a state of hyperpresence in my world. It is becoming increasingly apparent that I was, in a sense, born for language.


chrome3d said...

I think I´ve read that book too, or at least just about every Scarry opus there is ever printed.

FoxyJ said...

I love Richard Scarry! I should find some of his books for my kids. I never got into reading the dictionary as a kid, but I read almost all of our encyclopedias from the set that we got when I was 8.