I once said that if I were stranded on a desert island with only one book, I’d want it to be the Oxford English Dictionary. Given that this is hypothetical, I’d define the entire 20 volumes as one book. Alas, I have only the condensed version at home.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Lots of Information
The joy of big, encyclopedic dictionaries such as the OED and the Dictionary of American Regional English—dictionaries too big to fit in one volume—is that they give you so much information: multiple meanings, pronunciation, origin(s), where and when it was used. They give you archaic words and highly specialized ones. Often they include examples of the usage, past and/or present. Altogether good reads.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Specialized Topics
At the other end of the spectrum are dictionaries that cover very narrow or specialized topics, such as a medical dictionary, or dictionaries devoted to lust, wrath, body parts, or texting.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Passions
There are dictionaries that help one follow one’s passions. Everyone knows about cross-word puzzle dictionaries. Rhyming dictionaries fall into this category as well.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Subcultures
I own several dictionaries acquired for writing authentically about specific subcultures.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Time Periods
Some cover only certain regions of the country or time periods.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Regions
Not all English is created equal. You might remember the line sung by Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady:
There even are places where English completely disappears. Why, in America, they haven’t used it for years!
So it’s no surprise that there are various versions of the Oxford English Dictionary, including the Oxford Dictionary of American English. Given the breadth of the British Empire, it’s no wonder that there are dictionaries such as this one.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Age & Decade
As a writer, some specialized dictionaries are helpful, for example, when writing about children or when wanting to use slang appropriate to the age or year.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: What’s That Word Again?
There are even dictionaries for people who know what they are looking for but don’t know the word for it!
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Foreign Words in English Usage
I enjoy The Browsers Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases. For one thing, it points out words that are in such common use that one forgets they are foreign! Words like operetta and wanderlust.
Reasons I Love Dictionaries: Slang
But my all-time favorites for fun reading are the books of slang. They are full of colorful and often funny usages, and they come in both specialized and generalized forms.
Tip for Writers
Open any dictionary at random, close your eyes, put your finger on a word, and write it down. Repeat 3-5 times. Write a sentence, paragraph, scene, or story that uses all of those words appropriately.
Takeaway for Writers and Readers
Find your perfect dictionary and enjoy a good read!