Dear Uncle Sid,
I hope you’ll allow me the liberty of calling you Uncle since we’re not family. I take this great liberty because you have made a most miraculous entrance into my life. This is how it happened.
I have an inordinate fondness for dictionaries, especially old ones. The older the better, like Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language and Webster’s Third New International Dictionary published in 1961.
The one that follows me everywhere is Webster’s New World College Dictionary, but I only like the Second Edition which is no longer in print. It’s only available used from Amazon, which is where I purchased my most recent one.
When I opened it, your note to your niece Abigail fell out. Clearly the dictionary I was holding had been your gift to her, probably when it was new.
Reading what you wrote to her flooded my heart with joy.
My very first dictionary was from my beloved aunt Eugenia, a dedicated librarian (thanks to her I adore librarians). I was very little and the one she gave me was written for a child, very simple and easy. Every year or so she would check my reading level and advance me to a tougher one.
By the time I was 9, I was reading at a senior high school, and even college, level. I discovered much later that this is exactly how Abraham Lincoln, and even earlier generations like Thomas Jefferson‘s, learned how to read, and even went on to study law, back when literacy was much higher and they had much larger vocabularies than today. They were in the dictionary all the time.
Although I have a few crazy friends who adore dictionaries and words (especially discovering their derivations) as much as I do, it’s exceedingly rare to find anyone outside these crazy friends who believes dictionaries can be a source of such extreme happiness. The fact that you do staggers me. That you, with great confidence, such great certainty, ASSURE (great word) Abigail that there is great happiness to be found here blows me away. You truly are a kindred spirit.
You see, it’s not unusual for me to spend a couple hours a week buried in a dictionary. When I pore over the pages of a big fat dictionary, one that provides an abundance of definitions for a single word, I step through a portal to extraordinary enlightenment.
To me, if you know how to read them, dictionaries reveal the emotional truth inside words.
You can take a look at some of my earlier posts if you’re at all interested in examples of this. If any of these words strike your fancy, they have particularly interesting roots.
Words are, in our world and at this time, our main source of understanding, a desperately needed element in humanity. Important words like sacred, honor, dignity, worthy, respect, spirit, soul, and sublime carry the meaning of life from one being to another, from one generation to another, from ancient Greece to now. The old dictionaries keep them alive.
I don’t know if you know this, but the reason Noah Webster wrote the original 1828 dictionary, the purpose that compelled him to such a massive undertaking, was to ensure the new Americans preserved their religious and political freedoms. He believed that only if a people understood the full meanings of words, could these freedoms be preserved. A profound statement.
Although I prefer the hefty weight of this fabulous dictionary in my lap (and am thrilled you can order the massive hard copy from Amazon) it’s also online (http://webstersdictionary1828.com/) where I can be anywhere and look up the really important words like soul.
Uncle Sid, although I haven’t met you, I have a GREAT affinity for you and only wish I could talk with you about the words that you found here that were especially meaningful to you. I have a feeling we could talk for hours. I’m so interested in what you would have to say. What words did you look up?
Your gift and intimate note have passed through Abigail’s hands and into mine. I’m sure this would have never entered your mind, that you would enter the life of someone you would never meet, many years in the future, and fill her with so much joy, and yet you have.
Your intent lives on. I have no doubt I too will find great happiness, pleasure and fulfillment in this rich book. Your note lives on my refrigerator and receives a daily smile from me. It’s a constant reminder that there are people in this world I may never see with my physical eyes, who have great goodness, powerful understanding, who give beautiful gifts with great heart, who share the same deepest higher truths that inspire me, whom I can love without boundaries.
With love and gratitude for your gift,