Friday, 9 May 2008

Pass the dictionary, please


I missed this week's Booking Through Thursday but since it seemed made for me, I decided to post on it anyway. The question was:
Writing guides, grammar books, punctuation how-tos . . . do you read them? Not read them? How many writing books, grammar books, dictionaries–if any–do you have in your library?
I think I've only got one "writing book" on my shelves, Philosophical Writing: An Introduction, which was a set book for my Master's course. I don't think I would have bought it otherwise, but I did read it, and you
never know, it may come in handy one day, if only for swatting wasps.

As for the others, there are too many to list, but my copy of The Chicago Manual of St
yle is my treasure. I can't tell you how often that gets taken down. It's regarded the The Book in this household, and when I gave a copy to my elder son last Christmas he was delighted. It sits beside Fowler's Modern Usage, Roget's Thesaurus (a fourteenth birthday present from my parents - we're a funny family, I suppose) and a line of dictionaries: for work there are the Oxford English and Harrap's New English/French, for fun there are various dictionaries of slang, quotations and symbolism, pocket Italian and Latin dictionaries, books on grammar . . . I use online versions too, with a subscription to Merriam-Webster, and shortcuts to Chambers and several others. And they are only the tip of the iceberg of the books I regard as essential aids to writing, the stack of encyclopaedias and other reference books I couldn't live without - on science, mythology, heraldry, history. If I could only rescue one from a fire it would be Chicago, which is daft, because it's online now, but I know the layout and can find what I want in it, and anyway, it's there, just where I need it.

When I was first married and we were poor and had to make our own entertainment, we used to play games with the dictionary - usually just "I'll pick a word and you guess what it means" but occasionally a version of Call My Bluff, where you actually invent definitions - very good for the vocabulary, and great for playing with children, too.

5 comments:

Table Talk said...

A number of people mentioned Chicago which I don't know at all, so thanks for the link. I'm off to investigate it. Although, I do prefer my books as 'hold in the hand' versions, so if it takes my fancy I might just have to buy it.

GeraniumCat said...

One of the reasons we Chicago afficionados probably make such a fuss of it is that it's so wickedly expensive, I think! We feel we are very fortunate to have had a brief moment of madness when we decided we could afford a copy.

elizabethm said...

Ah, another reference book lover. We used to play the dictionary game too. My reference books these days are more likely to be gardening ones but I do still love a good dictionary.

Susie Vereker said...

Hello from a new blogger. I'm finding yours interesting.

But surely the Chicago Manual of Style is US English as opposed to British English. I was obliged to work in US English on an international magazine ages ago and consulted the Chicago Manual of Style constantly. For some years after that my punctuation and spelling wafted about in mid-Atlantic.

I like Fowler and the Economist Style Guide though of course the latter isn't nearly as comprehensive as Chicago, nor as prescriptive.

I love reference books too, though now I often lazily consult the internet. (And we often play a version of Call my Bluff at Christmas.)

GeraniumCat said...

Elizabeth, I love gardening books too!

Susie, welcome. You're right that Chicago is US English, but a lot of good English is good anywhere, and it's wonderfully thorough. My work tends towards the transAtlantic, but I have MHRA on hand as well.