« AnteriorContinuar »
over his book until his chin rested on its covers, and, waving his arms exclaimed with much content: 'How sweet to drift upon this tide!' And so it is sweet to drift in the dictionary. We float down the columns, as if borne by the current of a mighty stream, and the words are villages, plants, and people scattered along the shore. Here we offer no resistance, but glide on placidly, thinking of a thousand things. . . . The dictionary is a fantastical book. Some persons say that to read the 'Arabian Nights' is to unfold a whirl of dazzling mental images which cause a sort of inebriation which is followed by entrancing dreams. Fifty pages of the dictionary produce a denser, more varied, more dazzling host of images in my brain than fifty pages of the Arabian Nights.' I close the book, close my eyes and see a myriad of dissimilar things about me, which moving as in a circle chase one another, appearing and disappearing like a host of butterflies, and producing a pleasant mental agitation, which follows me even in my sleep. The dictionary excites my senses.
"Putting the pleasure aside and looking at the matter in a somewhat pedantic way, how much this invaluable book teaches in its familiar words and with its homely kindness! With its clear, simple, calm definitions and specification of things, it enables us to form our ideas and to express them clearly; so that, if after reading it for an hour, we sit down to write, we feel as if our thoughts and our way of giving expression to them could never be sufficiently direct and clear; so we no longer are satisfied with the first form, and end by improving it. By constantly studying its minute definitions of the vast number of things which we usually indicate by adding gestures to words, we accustom ourselves to exactness of description, to the use
of the correct word. The dictionary excites our curiosity at every step. As we read, we wish we had at hand now a botanist, now a mechanic, now an archeologist, now a historian whom we may beset with questions. But they are not available so we can not satisfy our curiosity; our questions remain unanswered, we bide our time. Then, again, the dictionary kindles many a spark in our brain, for word and thought are twins of the mind. Gautier said that some words were like diamonds, others like rubies, and others like sapphires, and they only needed proper setting. We may claim more: there are words which inspire us to great deeds; words that awaken a thousand thoughts which have been slumbering in the innermost cells of our brain, and words that recall to mind some long-forgotten book. Finally the reading of a dictionary teaches us modesty, for no matter how well-educated we may be we can find in every column some word which leads us to exclaim: 'I didn't know that!' and we realize the limitations of our knowledge. Many of us should read it if only to follow the example of the snail and draw in our horns."
De Amicis considers the dictionary as the most truly "national" book. It is, he says, an agreeable useful and moral companion to which all ages and all sorts and conditions of men have contributed-scholars, clowns who did not know a single letter of the alphabet, and children even. It quotes a verse from every poet, and contains a sentence from every writer of prose. Great events have left their traces on its pages; it is the history of our language and its battlefields, for here is arrayed a victorious army of vigorous, living words; there lie the dead and dying-the obsolete and the obsolescent words, the last like so many cripples or wounded are hobbling to the rear, and there
again, is a foreign legion-words that like soldiers of fortune have strayed from their native land to lend us a hand and enable us to express ourselves the more clearly thereby. Then, like De Amicis, let us hail the dictionary "Master, friend, all-wise counselor that answerest all questions; faithful companion of the student, dear and glorious teacher, we acknowledge thee!"
After this should one wonder at Daniel Webster's laconic reply to a lately elected member of the United States Senate who inquired of him what he would need in Washington-"Dictionaries, sir, Dictionaries!" Then, let us study the dictionary column by column, page by page, until we have increased our store of knowledge and acquired an adequate vocabulary of words to serve the purpose of expressing our thoughts.
The Dictionary as a Text-Book
ALTHOUGH the United States is the home of the English dictionary, inasmuch as more dictionaries are made, sold, and used under the Stars and Stripes than anywhere else in the English-speaking world, it is curious that there exists but a very limited knowledge of how to draw from its pages the jewels of speech which be-gem our language. The average man, woman, or child, who consults the pages of a dictionary does so in a superficial sort of way. It may be that a discussion has arisen upon the correct way to spell or to pronounce a word; if so, the appeal is to the dictionary to settle the argument. Again, perhaps, but this rarely, it is a matter of what does the word mean or whence came it? Once more the dictionary is appealed to as the court of last resort, and in this respect, it may be said, the people of America fortunately differ from their friends across the water.
In America the supreme court of language is the dictionary. The people bow down to it and therefore obtain from it much more reliable information than the average educated Englishman, who seldom or never consults it. It is commonly known that in the spelling, pronunciation, meaning, and derivation of words in England the native is a law unto himself. Sometimes one meets the type who spells this way or pronounces that way because his father
and his grandfather did the same thing before him. But more often one meets the man, and woman too, I regret to say, who pronounces according to the vogue, and insists that he or she is correct. Alas! for them, the positivists are invariably wrong. In the great majority of cases they have no actual knowledge of orthoepy, and although they may have some rudiments of orthography they would condemn the more inoffensive simple speller to the gallows (if they had their way) for daring to spell "check" without the "q," and "labour" without the "u." They would hesitate to enter a theater because they are accustomed to the -re and would run out at once if they found that the final -me was dropped from their program. Yet this very class of educated person will talk of myden lyne, where the sound required is that of the word that designates the national beverage "a" as in "ale"-and talk of "goin' huntin,' or shootin'," because some ill-bred persons set afoot a society for the mispronunciation of English words. That we, too, sin in the same direction, notwithstanding our wealth of dictionaries, is in evidence in some quarters, as is shown by the corruption of our Anglo-Saxon' yes to "yep," "yer," and "yah," as if the original corruption, or refinement, were not enough. There are also pazzaza for piazza; eats used for food; complected for complectioned, and hundreds of other erroneous, and many other corrupted forms of words which are known to be incorrect, yet are fostered by certain classes notwithstanding the opposition offered to them by people of culture.
With the publication of the "New Standard Dictionary" in America, and the approaching completion of the New English Dictionary by Sir James Murray and his asso1 Gese, gise, or gyse, from gea, "yea," and swa, "so."