• Joe Pace

Favorite Non-Fiction Books, #43: The English Dictionary


I have the best words.

I'm home, which is good. I feel about nine hundred years old, which is less good, but I'm still here. All I have energy for today is a quick profile, though still an important one.


I love that as a species we had so much to tell each other than we invented languages, and that eventually these means of communication grew so sophisticated that we had to set them down in written form. Then, because we're inherently taxonomic creatures, we came up with an entire language to describe our language and its rules and called it grammar. Man, we love to order our reality. Categories, lexicons, KPCOFGS. I'm a fan of making sense of the world too, and the dictionary is a splendid example of taking something entirely imaginary and making it tangible.


I think this impulse to sort and label is why modern society can be so upsetting and terrifying for so many. Gender fluidity, new family structures, the seismic upheaval of centuries of economic strata - all of this change threatens to upset our neatly-ordered conception of our reality, and we don't like that. You know what's cool, though? The dictionary has got us covered for that, too. Dynamic. Impermanent. Evolving. New. The words are all in there. We just need to find the ones that help us navigate and survive these changes and make the new world better than the one we thought we knew so well.


This dictionary has been next to my desk since high school. There are bigger ones, newer ones, but this one is mine, and I love it.

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