Death of the Dictionary

Are paper-based dictionaries dead? Do you still have one on your shelf or do you hit the online dictionaries instead, with a plethora of offerings in response to your search?

I may be out of step with emerging trends, but I still like to pick up my dictionary and rifle through it. I should say ‘one of my dictionaries’ as I have a choice of three. I often research a word, making sure not just of the correct spelling but the correct context. I will find myself using a not-so-common word in my writing and suddenly pull myself up short thinking ‘Hold on – where did that word come from? Am I using it correctly or do I just think I am?’ These words obviously spring from a subconscious memory based on past reading and tend to surprise me when they surface again.

I do use the online dictionaries as well, but I like exploring the associations and derivations of the word and possible uses, all the while flipping through the pages. I like the immediacy that the book offers (don’t have to be logged on) and like to feel the weight of it in my hands and the sound of the pages turning.

Probably where I use the online facilities the most is when looking for a synonym. It can be so quick to do a right click on the word and pull up a range of options – click on the best alternative and you are on your way, with only a second or so interruption. OK – so I so use online spell-checkers too (so convenient, except for the American spelling) but I’m not ready to put the dictionaries or the thesaurus’ out to pasture yet.

Working in the City

Working in the City

Today I saw a blind woman
Running for the bus,
Her long stick scraping the ground
In front of her as she waved it down,
Facing in the wrong direction.

Last week I saw a young man
Lying in an alley.
People looked curiously and walked on.
I prodded him awake and he said he had
been drinking. It was ten am.

This morning on the bus
I saw a woman pull a dictionary from her bag
Musty and yellowed with age.
She looked through a page of ‘A’s
Before gently shutting it and slipping it back.

Yesterday I passed the brothel
On the corner near my office.
A tattooed lady loitered
By the open door, dim light behind.
She didn’t give me a second glance.

One day I saw a pregnancy test kit
Discarded on the ground.
The two pink lines were quite strong.
Someone was ecstatically happy, or perhaps not.
Thrown away or accidentally dropped?

I walk around the city because I am bored.
My manager says that a good admin assistant
Would have found out so many things.
I tell him that I am not a good admin assistant.
He says “I know”.

March 2008

 This poem started in March of 2008 during a brief stint as an admin assistant, but has been added to since then with more observations from my walking around the city.