Slice of life

Book Impressions: Alice’s Dictionary

Reference books are the dinosaurs of print. The meteoric rise of the internet search engine has buried encyclopedias, thesauri, and dictionaries in the back of libraries and used bookstores across the world. Yet, these gems of information, which were once the prized possessions of family households, still have stories to tell. I heard one such story from my grandmother, as we peered over the massive spine of a 1956 publication of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary that used to belong to a woman named Alice.

Listen in as Gloria Kazmierzcak shares her memories of her mother collecting sections of the dictionary piece by piece.

This dictionary was bought by my mother… in pieces. A guy came to the door selling dictionaries. It was probably 1956. She paid for it every week when she got the section that was due that week. After she got all the sections, then the cover came and you could put it all together.

Alice Grabarkiewicz was a homemaker by occupation, and lived in Ohio with her husband, Victor. After she had three children, her oldest daughter, Gloria, babysat the two younger children while Alice walked to work at the Ohio Table Pad Company.

[Alice] enjoyed books. We were in school and I think she thought it might have been a good dictionary to help us in case we needed to look up anything. I think that’s why she bought it. She never really did say, and I was really surprised that she did buy it!

The dictionary was for the entire family to use for homework, research, or do crossword puzzles (which were Alice’s favorite)! The reference book was kept on the dining room table, at all times.

It was more than a dictionary, so to speak. It had… other facts about history and things like that. It was available to all of us. We didn’t have Google back then, we didn’t have cell phones back then, we didn’t have computers. So, this was it! In today’s age, I think I prefer looking [information] up online. Because it’s right at your fingertips.

Although reference books may be outdated, they support a different type of research that is drastically different from googling. Google requires a defined question. Reference books only require curiosity. With a bit of digging, old dictionaries can unearth knowledge that you don’t expect to find. This is something that Alice’s granddaughter, Barbara Shugar can attest to:

All of us kids… were drawn to [the dictionary] to just page through it, and look at words, and look at pictures, and learn new things!

The dictionary is mine now, but Alice’s memory is laced into each section that she collected, and echoes of dining room conversations still reverberate from the cover. The next time I need a word to complete a crossword, I’ll remember great-grandma Alice’s dictionary and spend some time lost in its pages.

Publishing

A Foray into the World of Genre Fiction

I love fiction of all genres. Right now, I’m hauling a beat-up fantasy novel in my purse. I’ve read everything from Pride & Prejudice to Harry Potter, and I heartily agree with George R. R. Martin, who wrote in the introduction to Warriors, “Books should broaden us. . . expand our horizons and our way of looking at the world. Limiting your reading to a single genre defeats that. It limits us, makes us smaller.” Sure, it’s great to have a favorite genre. I naturally gravitate toward fantasy and historical fiction. But it’s also exciting to venture into undiscovered worlds of fiction.

To understand the breadth of genres, I researched and created an infographic detailing 5 main genres, and their associated sub-genres. Each word cloud contains elements of the main genre, and within each subgenre I’ve noted the various stylistic elements and publication examples. Of course, this is not a complete list. It could never be. Genres simply categorize publications, and provide basic plot ‘recipes’ to meet the expectations of readers. Many good stories are solidly planted within their genres, while others defy genre stereotypes. They all inspire the imagination. I hope this visual representation of genre styles serves as a beginner’s guide to the many genres of fiction. Happy reading!

Publishing, Slice of life

Turning the Tables: A Word Exploration

I recently completed a word-research project based upon the word table. The final product was a 1000-word argument that explored modern usage of this everyday word. Here is the abbreviated version.

. . . .

Table. The first thing that comes to mind upon hearing that word is a long, flat, wooden board, supported by four legs, standing in a dining room. It is loaded with memories of familial laughter, smells of good food, and the occasional spread of work-related papers across its surface. It is a mundane noun; the furniture that it describes exists in many forms, in many cultures, for many purposes. It is a common everyday object. And yet, it has become more.

We know words matter, but even the simplest of words can have a wide variety of meanings. 

The object this noun describes has become a gathering place. A place for discourse, learning, argument, and unity. It supports culture—that of culinary delights, entertaining games, artistic endeavors, and political debate—so much so that table has become a verb as well. We lay our thoughts on the table, and sweep them aside by tabling them. We turn the tables on our opponents and come to the table when we’re ready to participate in discussion again. Motions that are laid upon the table can also be negotiated at a metaphorical one. Even the shape of the table has historically represented social position. The legendary “knights of the round table” were each equally revered as authoritative figures, while the head of the table is still revered as a position of authority. All these meanings and nuances reside in the five letters that describe the four-legged object.

Oxford Dictionary defines table as, “A piece of furniture with a flat top and one or more legs, providing a level surface for eating, writing, or working at.” Besides this primary definition, I personally used table as a verb, meaning to delay an issue or discussion. Oxford dictionary attributes this definition to American English.

This would explain my confusion when I came across a BBC news article which used table in a completely different context. Earlier this month, the British Parliament “tabled a motion” of no confidence against UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Why would they delay a motion when they clearly meant to move forward with the vote of no confidence? This one word seemingly contradicted the point of the entire article, and dramatically hampered my understanding of it. After a quick Google search, I came across a helpful discussion post that explained the British-English definition of the word, which is to “Present formally for discussion or consideration at a meeting.”

Because words can have dramatic variations in different dialects, we must carefully consider words as they are spoken within their given contexts.

Which form of the word is correct? The answer is, both of them. It makes sense that the phrase, “tabled the issue” means to present an issue for review within British English, especially since Parliament uses table as a procedural term. “Tabling is the act of formally putting forward a question, a motion or an amendment in the Commons or the Lords.” Even Americans will occasionally refer to “laying it all on the table.” As tables have historically been a resting place for objects, it is equally understandable that the common American-English version of the word means, to postpone the review of an issue.

So what was the point of researching this common, everyday word? The usage of this table demonstrates even the simplest of words can have a wide variety of meanings across different dialects. Such word variances should not be taken for granted. It is important to maintain curiosity about language, and an awareness about the nuances of different word usages. It is a fact that one word, when heard out of context, can lead to confusion. Thus, the importance of context cannot be overstressed. To operate ethically within our world, we must carefully consider words as they are spoken within their given contexts, before jumping to misguided conclusions.