I have always been interested in words and dictionaries. When I was at college I read my way through the Oxford Companion to English Literature – effectively a dictionary of who’s who in English literature with a lot of word meanings thrown in for good measure. It was whilst I was there that I also received my first gift of a dictionary.
I think that at the time I was using some version of Collins or Chambers dictionary but a girl friend gave me the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Bearing in mind how hard up we all were and how special a book it is I have treasured it ever since. Even though both older and newer editions have subsequently come my way it is still the one I turn to as ‘my dictionary’. (Thanks Judy!) I began to read my way through it but gave up at the end of ‘A’. I think the need to do a little bit of work on my degree forced me away from words for a while.
Some years later I bought the larger two volume Shorter Oxford and that has been the one to which I turn as the voice of authority for my word blog. I’ve never managed to afford the complete Oxford (and if I had had the money, the space it requires might have been an issue!).
Words and phrases for my word blog have come from a variety of sources. In the beginning it was primarily words that I came across while reading, the meaning of which I had to look up. Then there were also words that were answers in crossword puzzles or word games that were equally new or unfamiliar to me. To those words and expressions were added words that I came across while reading books about lost or unusual words like Mark Forsyth’s ‘The Horologicon’ or Novobatzsky’s ‘Depraved English’. Dr John’s Dictionary has been another fun source as I have read my way through a couple of books of extracted words from it, like the Penguin Classic version by David Crystal.
Phrases tended to be ones which struck me as familiar but whose origin I didn’t know. So, in a conversation, for example, Partner or I would suddenly say ‘I wonder where that expression comes from?’ Looking it up would yield an answer of interest and onto the blog it would go.
Gradually I added words which were more familiar to me but which I thought might be less familiar to readers whose first language was not English. This was because my two most enthusiastic commenters were (and still are) in that category. Thanks Meike and Monica.
And now I have one more source. I’m reading the dictionary again. The two volume Oxford Illustrated Dictionary, to be exact. We bought it in an Oxfam shop in Chester a couple of weeks ago. The word blog is scheduled a long way ahead but in a couple of months you can expect a lot of letter A words to appear….