Answer Me Late: Dictionaries for Colin

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* Click here to listen to EPISODE 7 *

Sharp-eared listeners will have intuited that I, Helen Zaltzman, am quite fond of a dictionary. It’s true, it’s true; in fact a quick sweep of my bookshelves revealed more than thirty dictionaries of various kinds, plus a couple of dozen other books which are basically dictionaries only don’t have the word ‘dictionary’ in the title (such as the most amusingly titled book in my collection, 7000 Words Often Mispronounced. Why the hell is that out of print nowadays, eh?).

So no wonder listener Colin hied directly to Answer Me This! with this query:

How big a dictionary should I have at home to convince visitors that I’m quite intelligent?

It’s not as straightforward as ‘As big as a family-sized box of Rice Krispies’. No matter the size, a picture dictionary or Roger’s Profanisaurus won’t impress your intelligence upon very many people. On the other hand, if you spend your pin money on all twenty volumes of the complete Oxford English Dictionary, they might think you’re trying too hard; and, for the money and the amount of space it would take up in your house, you might have better results if you invest in a baby elephant. Concise dictionaries are for fence-sitters. And strewing around a few clever-looking lexicons of tricky foreign languages is just asking for trouble, of the “Hey Colin, tell us some of those Finnish epigrams you know!” type.

So, as a happy compromise, I suggest you get a Compact Oxford English Dictionary. It is sufficiently hefty to make a fine doorstop or bedside table, but won’t require you to reinforce your bookshelf-bearing walls; its one or two volumes contain the ENTIRE 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary in miniaturised form; and, coolest of all, it has a little drawer containing a magnifying glass. You can get them in second-hand shops for about £20, which is a very good price, Colin, for making your visitors think you are way intelligent, and a little bit of a lovable eccentric to boot. Accessorise with corduroy elbow-patches, and they’ll be asking you to present Open University documentaries within the twelvemonth.

If you want to wow your visitors even more, and you’ve run out of Bombay Mix, you would do well to also get an etymological dictionary. It’s not got anything as fun as its own magnifying glass, but it will prove handy during those late night conversations of the “But why do they call them lemons?” ilk.

Now if you’ll please excuse me, I must go and write another letter to Countdown, asking if I can go on Dictionary Corner if Susie Dent were to meet with a mysterious accident.

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2 Responses to “Answer Me Late: Dictionaries for Colin”

  1. pixie Says:

    I think you shud learn to spell and use correct grammar

  2. Rosie Says:

    I think Colin u shud not just have a dictionary but have many interesting bookings. I think that just having a dictionary would make you look a little odd. I suggest that you have a large oxford concise dictionary and a theasaurus. Also you shud have a few bibles including the good news and you could show your multi cultural way about you by having a torah and Qu’ ran ect …………. I think you should also have a few autobiographies. Like the Chris Moyles one coz that is great. Altogether this will show you an intelligent yet interesting and varied sort of a person.

    Rosie x x x

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