From Where I Sit – Stay Out Of Jail

Not long ago I bought the Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Third Edition at Coles for $9.95 plus GST. This fat, little blue paperback is 1 3/4″ thick, weighs in at one pound, five ounces and has 1083 pages. It also claims to be one of ‘The World’s Most Trusted Dictionaries’.

This tool boasts over 120,000 words, phrases and definitions — a paltry .0000829 cents per word. That’s over 56,000 entries for the cost of one latte or over 187,000 entries for the price of a twelve pack of beer. A helluva deal no matter how you slice it.

This baby isn’t my first dictionary. I’ve got a 4 inch thick, 1977 Funk and Wagnalls on the credenza behind my desk. I’ve still got my faded red, grafitti-stained Thorndike-Barnhart High School Dictionary. Oh, if those pages could talk!

Also clamoring for space in my bookcases are the official Scrabble Players Dictionary; a lovely, navy blue hard cover Pocket Oxford Dictionary circa 1960; and the Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary. A delicate treasure is the War-Time Edition of the “Highroads” Dictionary with yellowing pages, stray ink stains and a fraying, fragile paper cover.

Specialty dictionaries have also crept into my life depending on what I was into at the time. From high school Ukrainian classes I have a Ukrainian-English Dictionary that offers an English definition for a Ukrainian word. This one’s practically mint.

From my days as an Emergency Medical Technician-Ambulance, I’ve got the Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health. I use it constantly for those unpronounceable, multi-syllabic, always serious-sounding conditions. Sometimes you have to settle for just a definition. Other times you get causes, prognosis and treatment to boot. Most times you need definitions for the definitions. But it truly is a godsend.

Since words make up a huge part of my life I’ve also got a couple dictionaries of quotations, the Soule’s Dictionary of English Synonyms and Roget’s Thesaurus.

With all these dictionaries why did I need another one, you may ask. I’m taking a university English course and wanted a portable, reasonably exhaustive reference to have at my side.

I tell you all this in an attempt to put things in perspective. For next to nothing, you can improve your vocabulary, broaden your horizons, enjoy career advancement, improve your quality of life and stay out of jail.

Studies have linked illiteracy and poor vocabularies with higher likelihood of incarceration. I guess the theory is that individuals with small vocabularies have fewer tools at their disposal for dealing with issues and challenges and tend to make poorer life choices. Seventy percent of Americans arrested for a crime are illiterate or score in the lowest literacy rating. No doubt Canada’s numbers are similar.

I’m learning to look words up (even those I feel confident I know) because there are nuances in meaning that make all the difference in the world to understanding.

Get a dictionary, stay out of jail. It makes sense from where I sit.

*Reprinted with permission