Dictionary Dreamings May 24, 2006
From the Desk of: Marjorie Suddard
I just snapped back to awareness after taking one of those Web-surfing side trips that can kidnap you unexpectedly in the middle of a work day.
No, I wasn’t looking at porn. It’s even worse: I was browsing the University of Chicago’s site on word usages.
As long as I can remember, I’ve had this fascination with language that bordered on perversion. Many are the papers that I’ve finished at the last minute because I kept opening the dictionary to look something up, and not resurfacing until a half-hour or hour later, once I’d had my fill of new and weird words and definitions.
The online dictionaries have been a real blessing to me in my working life, since my searches only return the word I am looking for, not all the wonderful and intriguing choices that share the pages adjoining, say, venturi. But the Internet has also provided a new temptation, in the form of many excellent online forums devoted to grammar and usage. These are the places where dweebs like me can debate the correctness of “importantly” vs. “important” (I prefer the latter, if you’re keeping count), or learn whether there’s a standard for replacing expletives with %@# or dashes. (There isn’t, and anyway I like to leave the expletives in when they’re used sparingly for emphasis, though there are some authors who start to sound like the only word they know is “shit” if you don’t do anything about it.)
I guess this makes me sound pretty weird and boring—which I am—but also oddly suited to my job as the principal copy editor for the magazines. What it may not reveal is how close to music I find language to be, and how similar its effects on those of us who love to put on the headphones and wander away on the sound.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to a story written by a freelancer who thinks “it’s” is the possessive form of “it.” Talk about nails on a chalkboard.
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