National Dictionary Day

Jessie: In New Hampshire where we are finally receiving some much-needed rain!

I love the kooky holidays listed online on sites like this one. Every year I make a list of the ones that pique my curiosity. As a novelist, yesterday’s holiday, National Dictionary Day, captured my interest. It was created to celebrate the birth of Noah Webster of dictionary fame, born October 16, 1758. I don’t know about all of you, but I adore dictionaries.

When I was a child my family owned a wide variety of dictionaries. There was the large blue one that was almost too large to lift that graces my personal library all these years later. We had rhyming dictionaries, Biblical dictionaries, and a Cassell’s French/ English dictionary from my mother’s college years. I used to love to pull one down from the shelf at random and then sprawl out on the floor with it opened in front of me in order to simply explore the treasures held on the page.

When I met my husband, who basically only spoke Portuguese at the time, I made one of my most valuable purchases ever; a Portuguese/English dictionary. Although my husband now speaks English fluently and with little accent, we still treasure that dictionary as a family heirloom. Recently, I added Dictionary of the Strange, Curious and Lovely by Robin Devoe to my collection and have enjoyed dipping into it during my morning reading sessions.

In the last few months, we have had some changes to our living space that have allowed me to fulfill the lifelong dream of creating a designated library in my home. I could not be more pleased with how it has turned out, especially as there is room enough to add to my collection of dictionaries. I can just imagine how much pleasure it would be to have copies of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary, The Reader’s Digest Illustrated Reverse Dictionary, The New Dictionary of American Family Names, and The Word Lover’s Dictionary: Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words, right at hand!

And although it might have been difficult for Noah Webster to have imagined the Internet when he published his first dictionary in the 1800s, there are some truly wonderful online dictionaries available. I love to use Merriam-Webster Online, One Look, Online Etymology Dictionary, Rhyme Desk, and a particular favorite, Visuwords, which makes mind maps of connected words.

It seems to me that for readers, and writers, there could be few things more delightful than access to dictionaries whatever the kind or format. I may celebrate, a day late, sprawled out on the floor as I did as a child, wandering through the pages of a dictionary!

Readers, do you have a fondness for dictionaries? Do you have a favorite? Have you ever tried any of the online ones I mentioned above?

35 Thoughts

  1. I love dictionaries. It was fun looking up words I didn’t know the meaning to. Now the online version is cool because it also tells you the pronunciation of the words as well. I do remember I had one of those teeny tiny dictionaries.

  2. Oh my, I love dictionaries, too! Ours had the little finger tabs like yours and I’d spend hours as a kid reading it. I’ve been getting the Webster’s Word of the Day emails for years, so I’m still learning!

  3. I remember as a child the thrill of looking something up either to see if I was right or all the possible definitions. I really do think the younger generations is loosing our on something what with spell check and such. In my opinion, the dictionary and the World Book Encyclopedia are the two greatest non-fiction books out there. Although due to space I had to forgo the physical set of encyclopedia, I still keep a dictionary handy.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  4. My wife gave me a paperback copy of a Merriam-Webster dictionary that I keep at my writing desk. I use the online version, too, and would be lost without them!

  5. On an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, he said the word “stow-mach-a.” That’s been my nemesis — pronouncing words like “stomach” with my style. The online dictionaries help, but the research always takes place a day late and word short after my wife’s laugh.

  6. Love dictionaries! In addition to a huge Webster’s, an American Heritage dictionary, several pocket sized dictionaries, an English-Latin, English-Spanish, and English-French dictionary, I also have a dictionary of French swear words (appropriately titled Merde!), several British-American dictionaries (one appropriately titled A-Zed) and a NYT Crossword Puzzle dictionary from the 1970s! Then there’s an entire collection of Thesaurus(es)(um?). Yep, bring on the words.

    1. I was tempted to include the subject of thesauruses in the post, but made myself resist so as to not go on too long! Maybe another time as I also love them!

  7. My mother would have loved this. She would have happily celebrated it. To this day I have 10 dictionaries all around the house.
    As a kid, I would ask how to spell a particular word and she would inevitably tell me to look in the dictionary. That sent me down a rabbit hole of learning new words by reading it all afternoon. I miss her..

  8. I have the same synonym finder that you do. It’s much used as is the dictionary that is next to it. I also love the games on the Merriam-Webster website.

  9. One of many benefits of being a university employee is access to the online Oxford English Dictionary. The OED is heaven for word nerds and invaluable if you’re writing anything historical and need to know if a word was in use in a particular time.

  10. I also love dictionaries! I treasure my language ones – Portuguese, Japanese, German, Spanish. And the American Heritage, with the addendum of Indo-European roots at the back, where you can see how the same word has a commonality across languages as varied as Hindi, Swedish, Czech, and Italian.

  11. I have used online dictionaries but I’m not sure which one. I use the synonym finder a lot. I remember the days of being told to look it up when I asked how to spell something. I always wondered how I was supposed to look it up if I didn’t know how to spell the word!

  12. I have a collection of oddball dictionaries, too, including some of the ones you mentioned. And a lot of foreign language/English ones because I can’t stand to read a book with a word in it I can’t translate (tho’ Translate online can be a big help at times.) I think my prized dictionary is a rare Spanish/Quechua one.

  13. I would waste time reading definitions in the dictionary instead of doing homework as a kid. Now, I don’t even know where my dictionary is.

  14. One of the best investments I made as a journalist, was a “Synonym Finder.” I used it more than a dictionary, and even though I use an online dictionary, it doesn’t begin to have as many choices for synonyms as this well-used resource. I also have a book on slang. I think both are out of print now, but I still find them useful.

  15. The very first gift I received as a new undergrad was Websiter’s Unabridged Dictionary and Webster’s Thesaurus. Now both are online, but I use them to look up correct spellings or exact meanings all the time.

    Also, which I would discribe almost as a “word history” dictionary (hat-tip to Edith for pointing me in that direction).

  16. We had a huge one from our 1950 Encyclopedia home buy. I kept it until 2008 when I just did not have room for it and gave it to the library at the school that I worked at as it was at least 8 inches deep.

  17. English-Russian, English-Italian, English-French, medical dictionary, law dictionary,
    geographical dictionary, Roget’s Thesaurus

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