Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Snicket's a Nerd Too!

The latest issue of Writer's Digest (August 2007) has an article about various famous writers' offices, complete with descriptions, photographs, and interviews that describe some of their habits.

I discovered a fun thing reading it regarding Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket. I've read all of The Series of Unfortunate Events to my kids, and I've loved all thirteen books. My kids have mostly enjoyed the wacky stories, but part of my personal enjoyment has come from the humor based on the author's (or the "Snicket" persona's) discussion of words.

I'm a word nerd, pure and simple. One of my favorite writing toys in the world is my Oxford English Dictionary on CD, which I got for my birthday a couple of years ago. The thing rocks. I love browsing through it. My father, a retired linguistics professor, has a condensed version in his office. It's not condensed in the sense of less text; it's condensed in the sense of othe the text being nearly microscopic. FOUR pages fit on each regular-sized page so that you can buy the set in just a few volumes and devote a bookSHELF instead of an entire bookCASE to it. (They send you a magnifying glass so you can actually read the words.) Or you can subscribe to it online. Or you can buy it on CD. It's the most powerful dictionary in the world, and as a historical writer, I can't live without it.

Okay, I'll admit it. Even if I weren't writing historical novels, I'd still want it. I love looking up words and playing with it, finding out things like why the word "second" can mean both the second of something and also refer to time (as in sixty seconds in a minute). It was fun to dig up the derivation of the word "steeple" after driving along the road and my preschooler asked why that pointy thing on the church is called a steeple. ("I don't know," I told her. "I'll find out!" And I did.)

That's one reason I love the Snicket books. He uses fun words and discusses silly meanings for them.

Which is why after reading the WD article, I decided that Snicket's real-life identity, Daniel Handler, is a kindred spirit. According to the piece, "To facilitate contemplation, he turns to his 20-volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary, which sits on a nearby shelf. Today, he's got one volume out to look up the plague, a reference for a nonfiction piece he's working on."


Not only that, but he pulls volumes out at random and browses through them. For fun!

A quote from the article: "I don't use it [the OED] to define words I don't know as much as to figure out what I'm really talking about."

Now that's my kind of writing dude.


Heather Moore said...

2 peas in a pod :)

Luisa Perkins said...

Can another pea fit in there? Because I play with my compact OED all. The. Time. I bought it when I was 21, and it is well loved.

I tell you, Annette: you freak me out every other post or so.

Annette Lyon said...

Cue the Twilight Zone theme again.

So few people I know even have a clue what the OED is. The only people outside of myself (and now YOU) that I know who OWN a copy are professors. Someday I hope to inherit my dad's copy--in 30 or 40 years, because he'd better be around that long. :)

Have you read The Professor and the Madman? It recounts the history of the OED. Fascinating!

Stephanie Humphreys said...

Ooooh! I want one of those. We are always looking up words in our little Webster's Dictionary. Imagine how much fun we could have with the OED

Jenna said...

My daughter loves Snicket's play with words too. She actually keeps a notebook with her when she's reading the series and jots down all the new words she learns and the definitions.

I want the dictionary CD! So cool!


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