Review of the Idea
of the Dictionary                   
By G. David Schwartz

My dictionary defines "paradox" as a statement, or behavior, or any other action or possible action now known or yet to be discovered, which initially appears to be absurd, self-contradictory or otherwise inconsistent with known experience, but in reality contains a substratum of truth. The possibility exists, of course, that the dictionary definition is incorrect. This is indicated by the fact that human beings create essays and monographs which explain us to ourselves. It is true that these papers use a number of words contained in the dictionary; but the fact that they are written suggests the dictionary is not adequate to our needs.

Another possibility is that my particular dictionary is not adequate to our needs. Investigation into what our needs are may lead too far astray. Nevertheless, my dictionary defines "need" both as "lack of something" and "necessary." I admit to being slightly piqued by this definition. (NOTE: Mr. Schwartz had attached an appendix purporting to explain that religious experience is the result of arbitrary and random lists of definitions which follow alphabetical order and contained etymologies and suggested pronunciations. Schwartz argued that confusions and errors composed the religious experience. His prime example is that the word "piqued" may refer either to irritation, or the choosing of a prophet which, he claimed, was a different order of irritation. Inasmuch as this paper was accepted for its logical and epistemological merits, we did not see fit to choose the appendix, which was largely a exegesis on the books of Jonah and Isaiah.) (Editor's note: The prior note was, in fact, penned by the author.) I fail to understand how one word can describe both a lack and a necessity. This seems a paradox.

You may, of course, choose not to believe my dictionary, preferring to consult another edition, or another publisher. Dictionaries abound.

The Webster, named after either Noah, Daniel, or Ezekiel, has probably the best name recognition. My library contains several versions of the Webster dictionary, including the Concise Edition. It is noteworthy that each of the seven or so dictionaries I possess from Mr. Webster is different, even the concise version. Words change and grow, expand, shrink, or drop from sight from year to year.

Dictionaries, which purport to tell us what words mean to us and how we should use them are, in fact, composed from the day to day actions and behaviors of petty human beings. Should one desire to undertake a study of dictionaries, however, one should not ignore the American Heritage Dictionary nor the New American Dictionary, although each contain virtually the same words. Also worthy of study are the various Funk and Wagnall editions, although they differ from year to year and, I am made to understand, from moment to moment in the printing room. There are numerous other dictionaries, the titles of which one may learn from a casual perusal of their favorite bookstore.

I do want to mention two hybrid productions. First, there is the bilingual dictionary. Bilingual dictionaries are those which carelessly assume a proficiency in a single language, and attempt to make correspondences between two languages. Rarely presenting bilingual etymologies, or even pronunciation codes, these editions are arranged alphabetically, which leads us to believe that the alphabetical listing is the essential element which qualifies a production to be called a dictionary. This may be verified by investigating insurance sign-up sheets, soccer roosters, employee payrolls from various corporations or businesses, and other lists of names, dates, or mineral compounds.