A few years ago I happened to pick up an old leather-bound dictionary at a jumble sale. Mainly it was because I had a new dictionary in my study but with two sons at secondary school, another one downstairs for family use would come in useful. It was at a busy moment in my life and with a very cursory glance, I shelved it with the downstairs reference books behind the everyday dining table which also houses an assortment of cookery books, wildlife works, local history, map books, and a few to be read fiction titles. And there it stayed, safe but not perused.
Yesterday, during a sleepover visit by my three year old grandson, we were eating our evening meal and began talking about the books behind us. Out of an impulse I pulled out the dictionary and opened it, and was amazed and delighted by the contents of its thousand plus pages. I really hadn't realised what a treasure it was and still is. It also brought home to me the fact that back in the day people had to rely on books for knowledge. Every house would have an encyclopedia or set of such somewhere, and until the Internet age, people made their living selling such tomes. I can remember my grandmother having a couple of such books, and my father in law had picked up a whole set when working as a junior in a second hand book shop and had self-educated himself from them.
This particular book purports to be a dictionary, but it is clearly a lot more all purpose than that.
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Published in 1928, the same year that my father was born, it's not just a dictionary of words and their meanings, but a veritable cornucopia of general knowledge information with numerous little black and white sketches to illustrate the words. There are pages of black and white plates. Look up 'sheep' for example and you'll get all the popular breeds of the time presented on the page opposite.
Beyond the 'A-Z' there is a supplement containing all sorts of value-added information. "Scientific words - Words of Recent Introduction, including War Words. - Extensions of meanings of some of the words already in the body of the dictionary."
We're then onto pronouncing vocabulary of Greek, Latin, scriptural and other ancient names, which then leads us on in a few pages to "Foreign Words and Phrases." 'Coup de plume' for example - a 'literary attack' or 'semel abba, semper abbas.' ' 'once an abbot always an abbot.'
On we go to "Foreign Words which Frequently Form Parts of Geographical Names, with Examples of their use.' For example: "Chow - Chinese. Island, second-class city, Hang Chow."
Then onto "Abbreviations and Contractions Commonly used in Writing and Printing," followed by "Forms of Address." For example: "uchess: Address: Her Grace the Duchess of - " Begin: 'Madam' Refer to as 'Your Grace."
After this we come to Principal Moneys of the World and their Equivalents in English Currency. From Abyssinia's Maria Theresa dollar to Zanzibar's British Indian rupee.
Then Principal Weights and Measures of the World. Who would have known that in British weights and measures, 56lbs is equal to one firkin of butter!
Next up is Synonyms and Antonyms, followed by mechanical movements illustrated just so you know your spur gearing from your friction gearing.
Very recent in people's minds, a Diary of the 'Great War' then follows.
We're not finished yet as there now comes "A Concise Gazeteer of the World" Comprising lists of the countries, their populations, areas, religions, industries. The principal rivers and mountains are listed. Towns and cities and their populations. The railway routes, steamship time tables and also "A reliable and thoroughly up to date Atlas of the World, comprising 16 full page coloured maps.
All the general you need to get by in a single book of a thousand pages. I am so glad that I have taken this treasure from my shelf and opened it. I can foresee many moments of pleasurable and entertaining delving.
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