jan_can_too (jan_can_too) wrote,

The definition of disappointment, redefined

The most disappointing Christmas present I ever got was a dictionary. I was about eight, old enough to investigate the packages under the tree, but young enough not to want to figure everything out. The package was clearly a book: one hard side, three sides hard-edged from the covers but indented for the pages. I loved books. Big books, lavishly illustrated, with lots of stories, preferably fairy tales with long-haired princesses like I was going to be when I grew up. The size and heft of this package suggested that I might be in for a real treat.

And then it was full of words. Worse, it was full of easy words, being a children’s dictionary. I needed a dictionary with all the long words I didn’t know, although I still preferred to ask people what words meant rather than looking them up.

I’m sure my mom bought it because it was useful, educational. Maybe she even thought that I’d stop pestering her to define words I wasn’t sure how to pronounce—mosquito, for example. (Once she said the word, I knew what it meant; I just didn’t recognize it from the spelling.)

Syd turns eighteen in December. For his birthday, he asked for a dictionary. An OED, to be specific. I just wrapped the compact edition, complete with its own magnifier, as both a birthday and Christmas present. (It’s okay if he reads this since the present isn’t a surprise.) I am jealous; my CD version is useful, but the big book is exciting! He knows that a dictionary is a story about words, about where they come from, about the people who spoke and wrote them, about travels and invasions and cultural shifts. And he will use those words to make his own stories.

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