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…the older, the better.

It all depends on one’s specific needs, of course. But for someone who reads older literature and primarily writes historical fiction, older words that aren’t finding their way in the newer dictionaries are necessary. There’s nothing more annoying than going to look up a word and finding it nonexistent. (Don’t say… “Just check the Internet.” That’s a dirty phrase. And fighting words, partner.)

I recognize that the newer editions have their merits for some folks. New words are springing up all the time with our ever-changing technologies. But I lament that when new words are added, neglected old words are sacked. Thank goodness for etymological dictionaries — because of them, the obsolete words won’t get totally forgotten. But most people (including me) do not own the massive set that makes up the Oxford English Dictionary.  Therefore it’s the readily attainable ones that concern me the most. This is why I mostly own older dictionaries. They aren’t from the 1800’s, but they’re old enough that some obscure words are still clinging to life. In terms of newer words, here’s a curiosity. Consider the following definition found in one of my dictionaries:

computer, n. one who computes; a reckoner; a calculator.

And that is the entire entry for computer found in the 1961 unabridged Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language (and that book’s a whopping 5 inches thick). You have the admit — that definition is true. It simply isn’t the whole truth in 2012. And I find it to be a refreshing definition, focusing on the human thinker as opposed to wires, microchips, and the Internet.  

And then there’s the thesaurus. In my opinion, there are many acceptable, usable dictionaries out there. The only true thesaurus is Roget’s.

Black and white print of a Peter Mark Roget po...

I formed this mentality while in high school. I had a 1940 Roget’s and that well-known yellow Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus. Webster’s never had a synonym that wasn’t in my head already (at least whenever I consulted it), so I quickly came to regard the Collegiate Thesaurus as the Kinder-Thesaurus. (Perhaps there are some good entries in Webster’s, but it lost my respect so early on that I haven’t given it much of a chance.)

Roget’s has all of the interesting, poetic words, and the classification system makes it easy to cast a wide net when searching for the appropriate term. If I want to learn something, I know I can always rely on Roget’s. The old Roget’s, that is — the one that still has 1,000 categories — even though the newer editions do have more words. There’s a good chance that I’m not even interested in many of those newer words, anyhow.

Of course, I understand that owning a dictionary or thesaurus that contains words like calidity, apricate, gremthtatterdemalion, or valetudinarian isn’t necessarily at the top of everyone’s priority list. But it is to some, and I’m definitely one of them.

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