Monday, 5 December 2016

Objects of Happiness 2 : The Best Dictionary

What is sweeter than learning? And what is more satisfying than the "Aha!" moment when you work out an intellectual problem? All Christians long for the moment of ultimate revelation; as St. Paul wrote: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; then face-to-face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even also as I am known" (1 Cor 13:12, KJV).  

Meanwhile there is a world of learning to strive in, every good thing in creation bearing the stamp of its Creator and therefore revealing something of Him. Of course, there is debate over what in creation is unmistakably good. St. Augustine thought the necessity of language sad, as it stemmed (he thought) from the Fall. However, do we not think of the eternal generation of the Son by the Father as the Father speaking His Word? 

When you set yourself a challenging language-learning task, there are few things as frustrating as not finding the word you want in the dictionary. When I was planning for my Polish trip, I set myself some language challenges and so I packed the Polish-to-English half of my two volume Oxford-PWN Dictionary.  The set retails at £95, and I would not have been able to buy it were it not for the Amazon gift certificate sent by a generous reader when I closed my "Seraphic Singles" blog. Thus, the dictionary reminds me of an unexpected reward for an awful lot of enjoyable work.

The Oxford-PLN Polish-English (and English-Polish) dictionary is the best on the market, and it is rare that I have the best of anything available for sale. This is not a mental hardship, for my mother has always been staunchly anti-consumerist and stridently condemns concepts like "brand names" ("You're only paying extra!") and any product that prominently features the designers's name ("You'd be a walking billboard!"). All the same, I believe that some products can be judged to be superior to other things in their class, and meanwhile....BOOK. The priorities in my childhood home were God, Obeying Parents, Books.   

Having been born decades before the advent of the home computer, my parents have a lot of respect for encyclopedias and dictionaries. As a young wife-and-mother, my mum collected volumes of the Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia using coupons from the local supermarket. As an academic, my father was in the right place at the right time when a campus library disposed of their old multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary. Somehow volunteer librarian Mum or Dad also got her or his hands on an old Encyclopedia Britannica. Meanwhile, Butler's Lives of the Saints has been a part of the household since before I was born. Thus, we were a well-informed household. After I was fourteen, whenever a question came up at the dinner table, one of us was sent downstairs to the reference section to look it up. 

Today it would probably make more sense to get a smartphone and have constant access to the internet, especially internet dictionaries. In his first year or two of life in Scotland, our Polish Pretend Son would unobtrusively fish out his phone at dinner parties and swiftly check unfamiliar words he had just heard in conversation. And to tell the truth, when I made my emergency dash to a Polish hospital, it would have made much more sense to have had such a device instead of  my Oxford-PLN Polish-English dictionary, which I had brought along. (The attendant nurse found this amusing, and it was never opened.) 

However, the Oxford-PLN Polish-English is invaluable when reading Polish handwriting, as in letters, for it is easier to compare the handwriting with different dictionary words and to find relevant phrases that shed light on the meaning of unknown constructions. I remember taking an early letter from London to a used bookshop so as to find a word in their too-expensive Polish dictionary set. While sitting on a step-stool, I compared the handwriting to a dictionary page of words beginning with mary- , and I still remember my joy when the handwriting unscrambled  and became marynarka--overcoat. 

It took me a long time to read handwritten Polish letters back then. Now I can get the gist almost as rapidly as I can read English, and then perceive the finer details of meaning when I sit down with a pen, paper and my beloved Oxford-PWN dictionary. At first I see it through a glass, darkly, and then I see it (as it were) face-to-face. 

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the joy of browsing through a dictionary...

    It is true that the alphabetical ordering of words in dictionaries is an advantage that isn't as obvious with an online dictionary.