On reading the Canadian Oxford Dictionary: the letter B
‘You’re such a weird kid.’
I’ve heard that a lot since I started this challenge. Most people give me an odd, confused look when they find out that I’m devoting so much of my time to reading the dictionary. And perhaps (okay, definitely) it’s a bit out of the ordinary, but when I start to tell them about it they almost immediately become intrigued. This isn’t like looking a word up on the Internet. When you open the dictionary you really don’t know what you’re going to find.
When you look up boarding house on the internet, you’re not going to see boarding house reach and learn that ‘reaching for food at a dining table with total disregard for one’s dinner companions’ has a name and that you like it. All of a sudden it’s not about hearing a word and finding out what it means – it’s about discovering words you don’t know. Almost without fail, each person who has come across me and my dictionary, and that has picked up my bulky companion for a few minutes of scanning, has immediately found a word that jumps out at them or a definition of a word that makes them smile. And that is when they finally understand the potential.
They do, however, still think I’m weird, and I wouldn’t say they’re wrong.
The art of writing a definition
While there is certainly a plethora of new words I have learned, some of the greatest moments have been rediscovering words I already know. Perhaps it would be more apt to give kudos to the great folks who wrote the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as it is the way they defined these words that is so spot-on. For example, barf is ‘an attack of vomiting’. Perhaps it could have been written as the regurgitation of partly digested food, but we all know that when you’re barfing it’s not like you’re a bird feeding your babies to lovingly provide them the nourishment they need – it feels more like a full-out battle-raging, violent attack on the body.
Similarly, due to its definition, the word bedazzle is now my favourite word of all time. It’s not a new word by any means, but the second sense of the word is ‘confuse by excess of brilliance’. Upon reading it, it swiftly kicked resplendent, frivolous and alpenglow into the backseat to make room for the newest top dog. If you’re bedazzling, you don’t just dazzle like a sparkly dress or a high karat diamond. You are so brilliant it’s confusing. Not just smart, but brilliant. Like Stephen Hawking. Or Quentin Tarantino. Or Moby. Perhaps by the time I close the book on the final word, I, too, could be bedazzling.
Forgotten words and words that stick
Probably not, though, as there are a lot of words that slip right through my mind as soon as I read them. These words are primarily scientific or mathematic or names of things. At first, it was upsetting that just seconds after reading names like ‘Vicente Blaso Ibanez’ or ‘Sir William Blackstone’ or ‘Earle Birney’, or words like basidium, or baryon or bacillus thuringiensis, I would completely forget about them. But I’ve come to accept that this is okay. I can’t possibly remember all of what I read when there are hundreds of thousands of words and senses. There are 71 words that start with the word big alone and 139 that start with black.
That being said, it’s not all for nought. There are tons of words that I do remember and it’s these ones that pique my interest that is the important thing. I have learned that a barley sandwich is a beer and so far in my life I have been using belligerent wrong. It doesn’t mean obstinate or stubborn; it means ‘engaged in war or conflict’ and ‘given to repeated fighting’. I’ve also found the odd British phrase ‘Bob’s your uncle’ is just ‘an expression of completion or satisfaction’ (with an unusual origin) and that go bush isn’t a rallying cry for the 41st or 43rd presidents of the U.S., but a bohemian notion to ‘leave one’s surroundings; run wild’.
Reading the dictionary hasn’t necessarily provided me with a bombastic way of speaking. It’s more what I would consider the average or common words that I enjoy so much. Like bone shaker which is ‘a type of bike with solid tires’ or ‘a decrepit or uncomfortable old vehicle’. You have to admit, that’s a fun word. Maybe it reminds you of when you got your first car that was barely worth the gas it took to make it run. The one that quivered and shook and took all kinds of ingenuity to keep it on the road. Boondoggle is another fun word that is the perfect fit for ‘work of little or no value done merely to appear busy’. You know you’ve boondoggled once or twice in your life. Or maybe you boondoggle every day. Either way, the next time it happens, I’m sure you’re going to remember this word.
The attempt to read the entire dictionary in under a year is my current challenge on Exit Sideways. It’s not the most physically taxing challenge I have done, but it has been the hardest to stay on track with. Since beginning in March I have not once been ahead. All it takes is one day of being too busy to read anything and I fall behind by 5 pages or almost 2 hours. I have now finished reading the B section, but for various reasons that ultimately don’t matter, I am currently 230 pages behind. While that is crushingly significant, I’m also not one to give up easily. So if you want to watch this underdog story unfold or want to cheer this ‘weird kid’ on for a come-from-behind victory, follow my blog or like the Facebook page.