Monday Memories: Do People Even Buy Dictionaries Anymore?


This is the twelfth of my Monday Memories series of posts. In these posts, I pull a book off my shelf, somewhat randomly, and tell you a bit about it. It's not a review of the book so much as a memory of the book, a bit about what might have been going on in my life when I read it, and my thoughts on who might like this book. 

The Book

The Doubleday Dictionary for Home, School and Office. Sidney I. Landau, Editor in Chief; Ronald J. Bogus, Managing Editor. Copyright 1975 by Doubleday & Company, Inc. Published by Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York. Manufactured in the United States of America. 

Why This Book?

I fear that reference books are a dying species. Who needs an encyclopedia, a dictionary, a thesaurus, or any other reference book when what you find in those books is so easily gotten from an internet search on your phone? Yet, my bookshelves still house at least one of each of those things, along with a medical advisor, a guide to men's health, a "how to keep house" book, and a couple of guides to the greatest rock-n-roll records of all time. 

To answer the title question - a quick online search (of Amazon) shows that in fact people DO still buy dictionaries. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate has been reviewed on Amazon three times in the last week alone. That's pretty good for a "dying species" isn't it? Though why Amazon shows Merriam-Webster's Collegiate as "#1 in Medical Dictionaries" is a bit confusing.

So I'm not alone after all in referencing reference books. But, while I do still own these reference books I have to admit that I seldom actually reference them anymore. They sit on my shelves, a reminder that not too long ago these written materials were a daily necessity.

While I haven't cracked a paper dictionary recently, I do still look words up online. Merriam Webster is a great online reference. And, if you haven't read Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Merriam Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper, I seriously recommend it. Beyond being lots of fun to read, it will help you understand how dictionaries are meant to work and make a you a more discerning word "looker-upper".

What's This Book About?

When it was published in 1974, the Doubleday Dictionary was the first totally new dictionary "in the 80,000 - 100,000 entry range" published in ten years. In his Preface the Editor notes that the dictionary excludes offensive racial and religious epithets (the "N" word is not here), and that it's inclusion of sexual terms (the "F" word is here) may be offensive to some people.

After the Preface and before the dictionary entries proper, there are some helpful short sections, including ones on how to use the dictionary; a guide to usage which discusses "standard" and "non-standard" English, as well as slang; a helpful guide on punctuation; and a discussion of Canadian English which blames the US "o-r" word endings (as opposed to the UK and Canadian "o-u-r" endings) on Noah Webster.

Also of great use is the Measures and Weights information on the back flyleaf. I have referenced this many, many times.

What Was Going On In My Life When I Read This?

This dictionary served me well in high school, college and grad school. I took it to the office on my first job, and on many jobs since. With most of my books I try hard not to do things like crack the spine or bend the pages, or mark them up. This book however, is pretty beat up, with a ripped spine, pencil markings inside and on the outer edges of the pages, tears on the covers, and frayed edges. For some reason it flops open naturally to pages 548 - 549, where all the words between "pianist" and "piggyback" can be found. It is a well used book.

Why Would Someone Like This Book?

Despite my own confession of paper dictionary laziness, I do still think that every household deserves its own dictionary. However, if you want to buy one for your household I am sure you don't want this one. Buy something more current, one that gives a "fresh examination of the entire range of entries" as the editor pointed out that this edition did back in 1975.

So that's my "Monday Memories" book post for this week. Do you own a paper based dictionary?  Do you still use it? Leave a comment below.