Monday, December 26, 2011

look it up in the dictionary

It used to irritate the piss out of me when, as a kid, I would ask one adult or another how to spell a particular word and the adult -- among them, my father -- would say, "look it up in the dictionary." How the hell was I supposed to look it up in the dictionary when I didn't know how to spell it in the first place?! What the adults meant, of course, was that by trial and error I would find the correct spelling eventually ... but in the meantime, there was that utterly unresponsive response: "Look it up in the dictionary."

This morning, for some reason, I woke up with the word "verdigris." I thought vaguely that it was a color, but I wasn't entirely sure and ... I wasn't sure how to spell it. I tried looking it up on the Internet, but was ultimately so frustrated with the endless permutations that I pulled the old dictionary my father gave me when I was about in the second grade off the shelf. Its yellowed pages, filled with tightly-woven and thorough definitions, coughed up the word almost immediately. "A green or greenish-blue poisonous pigment or drug etc....."

"Verdigris" is not a word I really have any need for, but there was a slight sorrow that I no longer have the company of those who might know what the word meant and how it was spelled ... and could hand over their wisdom without effort or concern in the same way they might tell me where I had left my glasses or car keys. There are those who clutch and cling to vocabulary as a sign of power or adornment, but it is also possible to simply enjoy it as one might enjoy riding a bike without making much out of it. I miss the company of those who enjoy such a thing. Knowing or not knowing the meaning and spelling is not so important. But the appreciation of it ... well, I miss that.

And, in the realm of age, it can irritate the piss out of me still that I have to "look it up in the dictionary." I would prefer that someone else just tell me, that I didn't have to break a sweat or make an effort.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

1 comment:

  1. Danged ole curmudgeon now hes got me slogging through this French-English dictionary!