I love an online dictionary. So handy when composing on the computer and I need to check a definition or find a synonym. And I am happy with the e-book feature, that with just a touch of my finger on an unknown word, displays its definition.
But I am old school enough that I have seven English dictionaries on my bookshelves. They range in copyright date from 1906 to 1985. Four of the hardcover editions are thick books with the little thumbnail cut-in indexes identifying each letter. One is a "vest pocket dictionary for constant use" that belonged to my grandfather. Some of them are illustrated in black and white. One dictionary (copyright 1938) has pages of color illustrations that are spectacular - a mounted knight in full armor, insects of North America, and maps of the world.
I was going to do just one post on all these treasures, but I got to looking through them and they are each so interesting that I will take my time, explore them, and write about them individually.
I will start with the two that are paperbacks that I keep around for sentimental reasons. One is The New Merriam-Webster Pocket Dictionary (1971) that I bought new for 75 cents. That is the price on the cover! It claims to have over 45,000 vocabulary entries contained in it 692 pages. It also has a section of foreign words and phrases; a listing of the population of places in the United States and in Canada as of 1970; and, a list of abbreviations.
There is a section titled New Words for a New Decade which includes, among others, seltzer, bamboo curtain, juicer, moon shot, and helipad.
I bought this dictionary to use in my first job as a journalist for a weekly newspaper in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. It is well-worn but the type is now too small for me to read. (Alas, aging eyes.)
Last entry: zymase n : an enzyme or enzyme complex that promotes fermentation of simple sugars
The other paperback edition is The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (1974) which is based on Webster's Third New International Dictionary and Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. The price on this one is $3.75. I bought it in the 1990s when I decided to become a freelance writer, but why I bought a dictionary with a 20-year-old copyright is curious. There are 57,000 entries in this edition. It has the same 1970 census figures and now includes a section of Signs and Symbols (including weather symbols and marks used in stamp collecting) and Pronunciation Symbols. It comes with helpful explanatory notes on how the entries are set up. It has 848 pages and the type is much clearer.
Last entry: zymurgy n : chemistry dealing with fermentation processes
Noah Webster produced the first truly American dictionary in 1806. In 1828 he completed his two volume edition that had 70,000 entries, standard American spelling of some words, and included words such as skunk and hickory which were not in British dictionaries. In 1843 printers George and Charles Merriam bought the rights to Mr. Webster's 1841 edition of An American Dictionary of the English Language. The company's first paperback dictionary was published in 1947.
The covers on both paperback dictionaries are bright red (though the first one is now a bit faded) and both at one time or another sat close by on my desk - their size and weight the perfect word companions.