I first encountered the Oxford English Dictionary in this building in India. It was the first time I’d ever been in a public library. This one was a remnant of the Raj in the hill town that is now called Shimla. The dictionary was at eye level. Only five volumes remained of the original ten-volume 1928 edition. I pulled one of the five off the shelf. I didn’t know it then, but it was the beginning of a love affair.
Through my life I have managed to make do with other dictionaries, but I’ll never forget the fine, dusty smell, the crackling pages of that old OED, with its tiny print and its detailed examples of the usage of each word. I spent quite a few hours lost in those pages. Many years after that first encounter, I read The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester’s wonderful account of the OED’s creation.
Recently, a friend was retiring, and in preparation he was clearing out his office. He decided he didn’t need an additional twenty volumes in his house–and I got lucky!
We’re reunited, the OED and me. I’m gray now and my knees creak a whole lot more than they did in 1971. The Dictionary is one revision older and several volumes fatter than the cloth-bound version I first met. But now I can look up a new word every single day if I feel like it. Fascicle. Zug. Meridional. Does it get better than this?