Last week, during a very pleasant day-long excursion with my friend Kris to assorted antique malls along Georgia Highway 78, I bought myself a dictionary stand.
I’ve been actively looking for one of these things for at least five years, so I was excited to finally locate one I could afford – and this one even has wheels on it!
As I unloaded from my trusty pickup truck this yet-another-object that I still haven’t found a permanent place for in my already crowded tiny house, I realized that my excitement about finally owning a dictionary stand was probably due to something other than merely having a place to store my ancient (i.e., long out-of-date) and hefty unabridged dictionary.
As so many of the things I own seem to be for me, this piece of furniture – or, more precisely, the dictionary now displayed upon it – is not so much a practical matter as it is a symbolic one.
For me, an unabridged dictionary is very likely a stand-in for my life-long awe for the centuries-old adventure of human scholarship. The dictionary is also emblematic of the miracle of human language – and in particular, the miracle of the written word. My respect and gratitude for the efforts of scholars like Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster is really respect and gratitude for the legions of researchers in every field of scholarly endeavor – especially for the wordsmiths (including biographers) who have publicized or otherwise kept alive the words of the poets, novelists, essayists, historians, philosophers, journalists and others whose word-bearing books have so indisputably and permanently enriched my life.
And underneath my admiration for the hosts of plodding seekers-after-knowledge throughout the centuries lies my veneration of the alphabet itself.
My fascination with the (English) alphabet became obvious fairly early, in my idle doodlings in the margins of my notebooks as an often-bored schoolboy. (Highly stylized medieval castles were about the only things besides obsessive strings of alphabets that I can remember scribbling in those notebooks.)
My reverence for alphabets – and, eventually, words and the meanings and histories of words, and the spells they can weave – doubtless predisposed me what would become a voracious reading habit, but is also probably responsible for my enthusiastic appreciation of the art of calligraphy, something that floated into my awareness sometime during my high school years and eventually morphed into another lifetime hobby.
At any rate, an unabridged dictionary was something that even as a kid I knew I wanted to own when I grew up, and I didn’t wait long before buying one (second-hand, of course, as the price was right). I’ve lugged the tome I bought from house to house during many moves over the years.
A wise decision, too, as that dictionary has often come in handy during the hundreds of games of Scrabble I’ve always eagerly played over the years – not to mention the dictionary’s usefulness in solving some of the hundreds of crossword puzzles I’ve enjoyed working. (Incidentally, I can guarantee you that an unabridged dictionary is essential for anybody who decides to read the novels of Lawrence Durrell.)
In short, the dictionary has been – or represents, anyway – a vital center of many of my interests or preoccupations, leisure ones and otherwise. And now, at long last, I have a sort of altar for it.