the man who reads dictionaries:
After some years of struggling along with two or three battered and inadequate dictionaries I have at long last come into my own. Now I am not only able to discover the meanings of such sesquipedalian and esoteric expressions as fans are wont to use, but I am also assured that “sesquipedalian” comes from “[L. sesquipedalis, of a foot and a half]” and that “esoteric” comes from “[Gr. esoterikos esoteros, inner, compar. of eso, within]”. There can be no doubt as to the value of this information.
These assurances come from the pages of Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, 1955 edition. So far, like James Thurber and Mark van Doren and all those, I find it completely satisfying. I’ve not yet failed to find in it a word I was looking for — an event that was about as likely as not under the old system. I had two dictionaries, one on the first floor and one on the second; the one I consulted depended on where I was reading at the time. One was a high school volume of the twenties which I suspected had been censored rather narrowly; at least I couldn’t find “peristaltic” in it. The other was a big fat book which never seemed to have the information I wanted. Neither seemed authoritative in providing derivations, multiple meanings, etc. The annoyances seem to be at an end now, with the New World.
This dictionary is one of three stocked by local bookstores. Students in freshman English courses have their option of the three, but for some reason I had stuck with my old ones until it became obvious that they would no longer do. By a stroke of luck I was able to get a used copy in good condition for about 25% off. What kind of person, I wonder, would sell a dictionary? Could you get that hungry?
Ah well. His loss, my gain…did you know that “science fiction” (un-hyphenated!) is defined on page 1305 — and that “fan” probably comes from “fanatic, influenced by fancier & the fancy“?