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The Secret Pleasures of Dictionary Appendices

April 18, 2012

Before the first day of school in the 7th grade, my mom bought my required school supplies at Gibson’s Discount Store in Sherman, Texas. Among other things, I got a blue denim three-ring binder for my schoolwork.

As a kind of “extra value” incentive to buy the binder, the manufacturer had added the “Webster’s Abridged Scholastic Dictionary.” This was a sort-of cheapie knock-off dictionary, consisting of maybe 50-70 pages of cramped, incomplete, cut-n-paste definitions taken from some public-domain source. (“Webster’s” isn’t a protected trademark or service mark, so even the most pathetic dictionary publisher can slap that name on the cover in order to “class-up” the place.

The fascinating thing for me was the appendix. Actually, I’ve always been a fan of dictionary appendices; they represent a kind of exuberant digression from the serried ranks of definitions that make up the bulk of the dictionary.

For example, here are some of the various handy fields of non-definitional trivia that one can get from the 1981 edition of the Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (G. & C. Merriam Co.):

  • The English Language and its History
  • Foreign Words and Phrases
  • Biographical Names
  • Geographical Names
  • Colleges and Universities
  • Signs and Symbols
  • A Handbook of Style

These appendices have all sorts of interesting things. For instance, “Signs and Symbols” has a “Miscellaneous” section, wherein I learn that this thing -> “/” is a diagonal, or maybe a slant, or a solidus, or a virgule. From now on, when I’m reciting a URL over the phone, I’m going to say, “http, colon, virgule, virgule, double-u, double-u, double-u, stop, atavisticnarrativist, stop, wordpress, stop, com.”

Also, the infinity symbol is used in weather charts to indicate “haze.” See, that’s your fancy-pants collegiate experience right there. Who needs secondary education? And in his thoroughly entertaining, “The English Language and Its History,” Professor W. Nelson Francis of Brown University outlines the significant aspects of linguistic morphology from the end of the Neolithic Age through the Atomic Age.

But while the respectable Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary has all sorts of charts and figures of general usefulness, I am even more fascinated by the editorial inclusions and scholarship associated with el crappo public domain knock-off reference works.

I couldn’t find the sad dictionary of my youth, but the following excerpts from the editorial goodies in the “Little Scholar’s Budget Dictionary” (Copyright 1971, Steel-Oh-Graph Instruments Co.) are a close substitute for the original:

Little Scholar’s Budget Dictionary

Appendix B: Useful Information

FORMS OF ADDRESS FOR BUSINESS AND PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE

Address of Clerical Orders

1. An abbot should be addressed as “Right Reverend [Name], Abbot of [Name of Monastery]. The form of written salutation should be “Right Reverend and Dear Father:”

2. An archdeacon should be addressed as “The Venereal the Archdeacon of [Name of Episcopate]. The form of written salutation should be “Venereal the Sir, Upright!”

3. A patriarch of an Eastern church should be addressed as “His Beadledude, Patriarticle of [Name of Patriarchate]. The form of written salutation should be “Most Beat Lord.”

21. A rabbinical dentist should be addressed as “Rabbi [Name], D. D. S.” The form of written salutation should be “Dear Dr. Dentist Rabbi [Name].”

22. A papal spouse should be addressed as “Her Holiness Madame Mrs. Pope.” The form of written salutation should be “Most Holy Madame.”

23. A retired vice-pope should be addressed as “His Emeritus.” The form of written salutation should be “Your Vice-Holiness (ret.).”

Address of Government Officials

12. Cabinet officers should be addressed as “Cabinetter [Name], Secretary of [Name of Cabinet].” The form of written salutation should be “Dear Mr. Cabinet Person.”

20. An American chargĂ© d’affaires should be addressed as “[Name], Esquirrel, American ChargĂ© d’Affaires.” The form of written salutation should be “Dear Sir or Madame.”

TRADITIONAL AND MODERN ANNIVERSARY GIFTS

TRADITIONAL

1st – Twigs

2nd – Dirt

3rd – Damp Rags

4th – Twine

5th – Charcoal

6th – Sack Cloth

7th – Hard Tack

8th – Brackish Water

9th – Wood Pulp

10th – Salt Lick

15th – Cabbage

20th – Dung Heap

25th – Socks

50th – Masticated Wheat Germ

MODERN

1st – Gold Chains

2nd – Motor Oil

3rd – Premium Cable

4th – His-n-Her’s Tattoos

5th – Vanity Plates

6th – Trash Compactor

7th – Post-Nup

8th – Surgical Sterilization

9th – Flat Screen TV

10th – Plastic Surgery

11th – New Roof

12th – Commemorative Collectibles

13th – Blu-Ray

14th – Hair Plugs

15th – Rebuilt Transmission

20th – Hip Replacement

25th – Celebrity Cruise

50th – Assisted Living

GEOLOGIC AGES

ERA – Years Go – Earliest Record of Plant or Animal

Preozoic – 1.142 billion years ago – unvertibrates

Oldozoic – ?? billion years ago – no-see ‘ums

Crambrian – .62 billion years ago – ambulatory fungus

Ordinarian – .5 billion years ago – stick-fish

Slurrian – ?? billion years ago – slimy hedges

Devourian – .39 billion years ago – carnivorous fruiting trees

Massachusettsian – ?? billion years ago – vegetables, ambiguans

Pittsburgian – .3 billion years ago – soft-shelled clumpers

Permanentian – .23 billion years ago – cyclops trees

Tricyclic – .2 billion years ago – three-toed kinkos

Gerbic – 160 million years ago – small woolly mammouses, malingering hummoxes

Curioastic – 100 million years ago – birds, primordial breakfast cereal grains

Septic – 70 million years ago – platytigeroids, flat-tailed ground crumps

Piltocene – 50 million years ago – mumoths, tufted grottos

Epilocene – 25 million years ago – armored budgies, six-legged horsebats

Opposumene – 20 million years ago – Age of the Opposums

Troubalene – 10 million years ago – flying articulids, mushoxen

Burbalene – 1 million years ago – orcs, catfish, ocean-cheese

Gangrene – .5 million years ago – Age of the Musical Glaciers

Docilene – .2 million years ago – Rise of the Hummits

Presentene – Today

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