Day 83: Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary for Children

Macmillan Dictionary for Children

When I was a kid, mom made me read the dictionary. Actually, “encouraged” is a better word, since she didn’t force me to do it. So I would crack open my Macmillan children’s dictionary and skim the words until I found one I didn’t know. The Macmillan was great, since it had plenty of pictures and drawings among the definitions.

Eventually I perused the Oxford English Dictionary a few times during my college days. The main library had a copy of the OED and it was exciting and intimidating, overwhelming and intriguing. Even though I was an English major, I was never required to use the OED for any of my assignments, but its reputation preceded it: I was pulled in by its mystique, since the OED made word nerds jump and down in its presence like apes going ga-ga over a monolith.

Years later, I would read about Ammon Shea’s quest to read the OED from beginning to end, in his delightful book, “Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages.” As crazy as the idea sounds, it appealed to me. I’ve always loved libraries and, although I have no desire to read the OED cover to cover, I can relate to the solitary quest of reading.

Today, I have a few dictionaries on my home bookshelves, but they don’t get nearly enough use. However, I do follow the OED’s Twitter account. Every day they tweet a word’s definition (usually an obscure one) and while it might not bring back the childhood pleasure of learning what an aardvark is and seeing its picture next to the definition, it’s nice to have a little knowledge break among the usual social media noise.

Day 39: Podcasts I’m Listening to Now

Stephen Colbert, courtesy of

Stephen Colbert, courtesy of

This morning I saw the news item about Adnan Syed and how a Maryland court will now hear an appeal for his case. Syed was the subject of the first season of Serial, the podcast released last October that became a huge hit. I loved the Serial and after binge-listening to Syed’s case (he’d been convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend before receiving a life sentence), I wasn’t sure of his guilt or innocence, but I felt that the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty. He couldn’t have been locked up based on the evidence given, could he?

Well, thanks to the success of Serial, his case could be re-opened. It’s another twist to a fascinating story, a tale that was so expertly presented by Sarah Koenig during the 12-episode first season.

After I had finished that brilliant first season, I decided I needed more podcasts for driving or working out, since I usually listened to music for both. I did a quick Google search that led me to two fantastic podcasts: Soul Music and Working. I recommend either of them for your next podcast binge session.

1. Over on the BBC website, Soul Music offers “the stories behind pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact.” Listen to the episode about the song “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” with its touching and poignant anecdotes. The story about Teddy Pendergrass is heartbreaking.

2. Slate’s Working is a podcast about work. For each episode, one person discusses a typical day at their job. Whether it’s a lexicographer explaining the process of defining words for the Merriam-Webster dictionary or Stephen Colbert going over a typical day at The Colbert Report, the results are always informative and intriguing.