Reading the Canadian Oxford Dictionary: the letter A
A bookmark holds my place in the largest book I have ever attempted to read – a behemoth weighing in at 4.6 pounds. It looks odd with the braid hanging somewhere in the midst of the 1,815 pages of tiny print. Every morning I crack it open and painstakingly read as much as I can before work, never able to get lost in the narrative or develop a one-sided relationship with the characters because I am reading the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Cover to cover.
A daunting task
This daunting task is the equivalent of 25 average-sized novels. I also have a deadline of 1 year to accomplish this. At stake is merely success or failure, but to me that is all that matters. I run a challenge blog Exit Sideways where I have done everything from eating raw to spending hours outside everyday in sub-arctic temperatures to attempting to conquer the chin-up bar, and now the Super Geek in me gets to rise up and hopefully prevail.
You see, I love words. Yet, as an average adult, I only have 20,000 to 35,000 words in my repertoire. Given that this dictionary has 300,000 entries that means I am missing out. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has 615,100. So I’m missing out even more. Imagine what could be done if you had access to even 10,000 more words. Instead of enjoying a mountain sunset, you would be watching the alpenglow of a warm summer’s onsetting dusk. Or, instead of cutting open an avocado, you would be slicing into an alligator pear. Or when you’re exhausted and angry because your toddler has become cantankerous in the late afternoon, you can find some slight relief knowing that there are other parents out there experiencing a similar arsenic hour.
From alpenglow to assassin
Alongside the dictionary, I keep a notebook that I’ve been filling pages and pages of with my favourite words. Some have earned their place for the meaning of the word, others for their origins, some because I like how they sound, and a bunch because they’re simply just fun. Like arf. We all know it’s a representation of a dog’s bark, but it’s probably not something you’ve really sat down and considered before. So when I stumble on those simple words in amongst words like anastomosis and arriviste, they really stand out despite that they belong in the dictionary just as much as the next word.
Scribbling down entries like alterity (‘state of being other or different’) and alopecia (‘baldness’) and agog (‘eager, excited’), I’m happily reminded of the beauty in everyday words like amen (‘so be it’) and have begun the hunt for what will be my most favourite word of all. While my notebook is filling faster than a starving man’s stomach when he’s finally found food, there are already a few words that stand out from the rest and are contenders for that top spot. Right now, alpenglow is leading the race, but I still have 25 more letters to go.
While those are just a few of my favourite definitions from the As of the dictionary, I have also been keeping a record of words whose origins strike a chord with me. Like assassin. It comes from medieval Latin which comes from the Arabic word for ‘hash-eater’ because that is how the medieval assassins would prepare for action. Doesn’t that give you pause? These killers were high. You’d think they would want to be as clear-headed as possible, but, you know, I guess not.
Becoming a steadfast companion
This dictionary might also end up being the most travelled book I own as I have taken it everywhere in an attempt to beat the deadline. Just weeks ago, flying at 20,000 feet, I cracked open my new steadfast companion, removed the bookmark, and settled in for a two-hour flight. I could feel the lady beside me glancing over and I knew what she was thinking; she isn’t the first person to be confused by what I’m doing. I wanted to lean over and tell her that I’m in training to be the smartest person in the world, but I really couldn’t arrogate like that.