Sean Williams

dictionaries i have known

posted on 7 Nov 2006 at 7:06 am

I was talking to someone recently about dictionaries. I can’t remember who. Probably another writer. Who else would get involved in such a conversation? Willingly, I mean.

Anyway, the point of the conversation (if not the details) stuck with me and made me wonder just how many books I owned with the word “dictionary” in the title. The answer is “fifteen”, and they are:

Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions (1981)
21st Century Dictionary of Slang (Princeton Language Institute, 1994)
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable (1996)
Collins English Dictionary (1998)
Dictionary of Angels (Davidson, 1967)
Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons (Lurker, 1988)
Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult (Drury, 1985)
Dictionary of Saints (Delaney, 1982)
Dictionary of Symbols (Liungman, 1991)
Dictionary of the Bible (Hastings, 2nd edition, 1963)
Harvard Dictionary of Music (1973)
Home Study Dictionary
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture (Burden, 2002)
Penguin Dictionary of Clichés (Cresswell, 2000)
Penguin Dictionary of Symbols (1996)

A fair number, I guess, and most of them have been well-thumbed. I’m on the look-out for more, now. The Internet is wonderful for word and phrase searches, but for creative browsing, where random encounters can trigger all sorts of new ideas, nothing I’ve yet come across beats a paper book.

PS. The date of the Home Study Dictionary eludes me, but it must be from the late 50s or 60s because the price written in the front is pre-decimal and my father’s ex libris stamp is on the first page. It might seem a little strange keeping an out-of-date dictionary around, but it’s come in very handy down the years, particular its sections on “Forms of Address used in Ceremonious Communications with Persons of Title or Official Position” and “Words, Phrases and Noteworthy Sayings, from the Latin, the Greek, and Modern European Languages, met with in Current Literature”. Messages from another age.