History Lessons: The Dictionary

History. What is it? Can you touch it, like a lover’s breast?

No one knows the answers to these questions, but here at Heading for the Exits, we’re committed to helping people develop a better understanding of this mysterious subject. Once a week, your pal Universal Enveloping Algebra will crash headlong into the dense jungle of history and, just when you think he’s been gone so long that he’s definitely been eaten by a 200 pound spider, re-emerge with a treasure from the past to share with us all. This week, UEA investigates a truly remarkable object: the dictionary.

When you think of a dictionary, what comes to mind? Yes, horses, but what else? Words, perhaps? Lots of words? All the words? What a coincidence: Dictionaries are books that contain all the words. This concludes my article about dictionaries.

Ha ha! Just kidding!

Believe it or not, early dictionaries did not contain every word. In the days of the first dictionaries, back in the 1970s, rival companies would put out their own versions of the dictionary. Each company would race like mad to claim their favorite words so that no other dictionary could have them. Some companies put up as many as two, or even three versions of their dictionary per year, with each new edition featuring as many as six more words. “Oh, those days were wilder than a buckin’ colt itchin’ for a filly!” says noted dicologist (dictionary expert) Stool Magroggins in that North Carolina drawl we all know and love. “The best words were fought over like you can’t imagine. You wouldn’t believe the lengths these companies went to when twatbomb was discovered.”

So how is it that dictionaries came to feature every word? The answer is easy: Steve Jobs. No, not that Steve Jobs. The owner of the most successful dictionary company in those salad days just happens to share a name with a man who was quite the revolutionary in his own right. He’s known as “the Steve Jobs of dictionaries,” which makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Not only did he buy out his rivals, one by one, to establish a true monopoly (and thus the ability to print a dictionary with every single word), early on he increased the rate at which new words were added by three — sometimes as many as four — new words per edition. Today, the “Steve Jobs — No, The Other Steve Jobs, Or Actually Just Whichever Steve Jobs You’re Thinking Of — Dictionary” boasts upwards of 600 words, and these are all the words we know. Scientists speculate that even more words may exist, and many are hard at work trying to find them.

“Oh, those scientists. Sometimes I think they go too far,” opines Stool Magroggins, voice lilting like a toad hoppin’ on the raft bobbin’ in the crick. “Mayhaps there’s more words. Mayhaps we ain’t meant to know ’em! If God wanted us to have more words, why didn’t he give ’em to us from the beginning? Really makes you think, doesn’t it?” It sure does, Stool. It sure does.

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6 Responses to History Lessons: The Dictionary

  1. Fendi Hotdogbun says:

    My first memory of the dictionary is of being in the throes of puberty and looking up words like “sex” and “vagina” and “reverse blowbang” and “why do i get an erection when using electric nipple clamps” and “boob” and “butt”

  2. BronzeHammer says:

    What would you say to critics of the dictionary? For example, those who point out that it makes no sense to look up how to spell a word in the dictionary, if you, indeed, do not know how to spell it already?

    • Universal Enveloping Algebra says:

      Experts theorize the existence of small “sub-words” that may be identifiable even when the entire word is not. If a student is looking up a word, and she does not know how to spell it, perhaps these “sub-words” will let ‘er find it.

  3. DJ Jazzy Jeff Weaver says:

    my favorite word is cat is that word in there

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