My Most #Cherished Object—is a Dictionary

Posted: 2015/07/25 in Blogging
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I pondered for days over what to write for this blog and nearly gave up, thinking that none of the things that I love is appropriate for public celebration. So I took more time and searched around my house with a greater degree of keenness. When I got to my bookshelf, I paused there for a long time, for it is the homiest place in the whole house. Those books are a treasure to me, and I’d rather lose everything else than a single page. However, the best of them all is my American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language–New College Edition.

AHDEL: It is an antique

AHDEL: It is an antique

AHDEL, I will call it here.

I love words, they fascinate me, and some days I read my dictionary the way I would read any other book. I search for new words, new phrases, new meanings to familiar words and phrases. When I was young and still living in the village, my father gave me an old Oxford Dictionary which himself he had used before. I used to read it like a novel. I knew things I had never seen, places I had never been to (and maybe would never) and words I could not pronounce. It was my Google.

When I joined high school, I maintained the spirit (it was hard not to maintain it). I even bought a 4-quire book for keeping my new words. At some point I realized that my vocabulary was truly fine (and refined). I had a great deal of synonyms for a great deal of words, a great deal of phrases to describe a great deal of things. This, coupled with an even greater love for reading and an affinity for books, in general, made my writing a bit easy, for even by then I had begun to scribble things.

English is not my native language and to speak it and write in it well, I must constantly consume it.

The AHDEL is like no other dictionary that I have ever owned. It is extremely detailed. It gives the minutest differences between words that can easily be taken for synonyms. Bold and courageous, for instance; strange and queer, bolt and dart, etc. It even has the origin of every letter in the English alphabet: from the Phoenicians, down to Greeks, to Romans, etc, and it shows every time the shape of the letter was changed.

I bought it by impulse from a second-hand dealer downtown Nairobi in 2010. It is one of the best books I’ve ever bought. It is my antique.

I also have Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary, and Collins English Dictionary, and Oxford—just so I am never speechless (pun intended).

Thank you for reading.

  1. Great post. I treasure books and I have few in my collection which are there since my school days. Since you’ve already read my #Cherished post you know that I worked hard after I failed. At that point in time, my English was completely out of sync. It took me months of newspaper reading along with my Oxford dictionary to bring it to a decent level. I used to write newspapers, yes, you heard that right, I used to write the entire news articles from newspapers on my book and in that process improve my vocabulary. I used to pick 10 random new words, find their meanings and then use them in my regular life, as and when possible. I still have that same dictionary with me. A bit torn apart, but it still has a place in my closet.

  2. Oloriel says:

    A wonderful choice! The dictionary looks very ancient, which gives it an even more magical feel. It also reminds me of my own dictionary, which I nabbed from my dad, some 20 years ago, and still read it to this day 🙂

    • Peter Nena says:

      Oloriel, how are you? It’s good to see you here, my great poet. But old is gold, as the saying goes. And I’m glad you have one as well. I still like thumping through the pages. Online dictionaries do not give me that quaint satisfaction.

  3. I remember paging through my parents dictionary as a kid. For some reason, I loved the end material with all the charts and lists like the Greek alphabet.

    • Peter Nena says:

      Thank you Tamara. Kids and books are usually wonderful companions. I loved the Charts too. The first World Map I ever saw was in a dictionary. Thanks.

  4. Dan Antion says:

    I love books and I am in danger of being forced out of my house by them, well, I feel that way sometimes. I never thought about a dictionary from the point of view of a non-native speaker. I am glad you shared this with us Peter. You write so very well, and your word choice is amazing for someone for whom English is a second language. Now I have insight into your passion for words and I understand a little better.

    • Peter Nena says:

      Ha! Dan, thanks. I like that the books may force you out of your house! That’s a great concept for a story. When they become crazy! Ha, ha! Thanks, man, for the kind words and intent. I hope you have a rewarding week ahead.

  5. dweezer19 says:

    I am not surprised at all by your choice Peter, for I find you a master of words. To read your work, one would never guess that English is a second language for you. I understand very well your desire to stretch your scope of vocabulary. Even though I have spoken and studied English and literature my entire life, I always want to stretch those limits, the boundaries of comprehension. That was what first drove me to read Dostoevky. t’s funny but right now I have been trying to study Spanish with Rosetta Stone and also read Archimedes to Hawking, a book about physics theory. I beleive I have a smoother comprehension of the Spanish language! Ha. But it opens up a part of my brain that before was just sleeping. I love your antique dictionary. There is magic within the covers, a wealth of silk for spinning webs of magnificent worlds. This is a beautiful share my friend. I am so missing your words.

    • Peter Nena says:

      Cheryl, you make my head so big! Thank you, my dear friend. That book, Archimedes to Hawking–I should read it–I am truly happy you are reading such a book. And Dostoevsky–God knows I have heard enough about him to be exceedingly intrigued. Since I can’t find a copy of any of his works in Nairobi, I will try Amazon. But I must read him.

      • dweezer19 says:

        Still working on them Peter. You would love the physics one I’m sure. But Dostoevsky is wonderful. Hr makes you even love the villains. Or at least be amused by them. Do try Amazon. If you have a book app at all, you can get a collection for really good price many times. I have both hard copy of The Idiot (my favorite so far) and a Kindle collection. I have also read Crime and Punishment, a rather famous of his. Now I am trying to get through The Brothers Karamazov. Thus far I am not intrigued. We will see. But it does stretch the brain tissue and clears the cobwebs my friend!

  6. Kalpanaa says:

    Choosing is never easy and, like you I didn’t want to write about anything too personal or too steeped in sentimentality. A dictionary can be a wonderful friend.

  7. Debbie D. says:

    That sounds like the perfect dictionary. I’m not surprised it’s a cherished item for you. 🙂 My small house is overrun with books and I wish there was room to have a proper library. Thank you for co-hosting this interesting blogfest!

    • Peter Nena says:

      Hi Debbie. My friend Dan Antion at No Facilities also says that his house is overrun with books–he feels that they may force him out. I think I am in the right company. Thank you for your appreciation. I hope you have wonder-filled week!

  8. Almost Iowa says:

    Ursula Le Guin wrote that knowing the name of an object allowed you to share it’s power. I think that is true for words too. Knowing a word allows you to share it’s power.

    • Peter Nena says:

      That’s a great thing to say. I love it. Knowing a word certainly allows us to share its power. Thanks, man, for sharing such a keen wisdom.

  9. Lady Ella says:

    Nice choice! A friend of mine once told me about his dad’s dictionary – a dog-eared volume he always kept close, principally for crossword solving. My friend wondered at his dad’s attachment to that dictionary. “It was SOOO tatty, but you’d never dare buy him a new one!” Made me laugh. Sometimes old and worn means more.

    • Peter Nena says:

      Absolutely. ‘Old and worn’ means memories and history. I understand how your friend’s dad felt about his dictionary. Thank you Lady Ella for your appreciation and for sharing such a wonderful memory.

  10. What a wonderful cherished object. Your dictionary is such a beautiful text. A good item for someone who loves words.

    • Peter Nena says:

      Thank you Amanda. Good to see you here. Words are powerful things. Mastery of them is worth attempting. Thanks my dear. Do have an amazing week!

  11. Words are simply wonderful. A dictionary was a great choice!

  12. […] many of our fellow bloggers. I was happy to agree to co-hosting the project, along with Dan Antion, Peter Nena, and Sharukh Bamboat. The remit was to write a 500 word post about some cherished object or […]

  13. A lovely cherished object! My old school dictionary of 50 years ago I miss… and often wish I had it.

  14. tara tyler says:

    that’s awesome! consuming the wonderful plethora of words in a dictionary!
    i could probably eat up a thesaurus, myself…

    • Peter Nena says:

      Ha! Eat up a thesaurus!! I love that! I could swallow it whole. Thank you Tara for appreciating my choice. I hope you have a marvellous week!

  15. EM Biddulph says:

    Some books are really special – I have a very treasured book too, a complete collection of the works of Shakespeare that I am very attached to. I love my dictionary as well, but it’s just a standard one – yours seems way more important! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Peter Nena says:

      Thank you! Books must be treasured. Where would we be without them? And a dictionary–which is the book explaining the words in the other books–is the greatest of them all. Thank you again.

  16. joey says:

    I have the same dictionary, perhaps of a different year, but the same one. Lovely story, thank you for sharing 🙂

    • Peter Nena says:

      Aha! Then you know how deep and detailed it is. I’m really glad we both share the same book. Thank you, and do have a profound week!

  17. Mine is a paperback version of the Random House Dictionary…to call it “dog-eared” is an understatement. The front and back covers have been lovingly taped back in place after parting ways with the rest of the book many years ago, and the pages are going yellow at the edges. I could easily replace it with a crisp new version, but it’s like an old friend at this point.

    • Peter Nena says:

      That’s amazing Jack. I’m glad I’m not alone with the love for a good dictionary. Thank you for your appreciation. Cheers!

  18. I have always loved my thesaurus!! and an old set of encyclopedia my parents had!!- Great post Peter and you are an accomplished wordsmith!!

  19. joannesisco says:

    I could really relate to your cherished object. One of my first purchases as a child with my own saved money was a dictionary. I even remember it cost $4 and took weeks to save enough money.
    I no longer have that original book, but our book shelves today are full of dictionaries in various languages … including my mother’s 1938 edition of a Dutch-English dictionary. It is now badly battered after years of use and no longer has a front cover. It is a treasure.

  20. Love this post. My grandmother had a large dictionary that I was rather fond of.

  21. Valeer says:

    Nice! Learning new words is really so much fun! I just always seem to have a problem with remembering them once I write them down.

    • Peter Nena says:

      I had a problem with remembering when I began. Sometimes I would use an incorrect word to describe something, then later on I’d remember and apply the correct one. The mistakes helped boost my memory. Thank you for visiting and for your comment.

      • Valeer says:

        Thanks for that information. I’ll try to do that next time. And no problem. I always like to support good writing.

  22. Vidya Sury says:

    Hi Peter! This is such a lovely idea for a blogfest. I contemplated my Wren and Martin, but have written about it long ago. 🙂 I love your choice for cherished object – I love my dictionaries too! And yes, I still have my vocabulary book!

    • Peter Nena says:

      Hi Vidya. I am happy we share the passion for such a priceless object. Thank you for appreciating my choice. I hope you have a wonderful week ahead!

  23. Hello! Really great post! I would never have guessed English wasn’t your native language and I’m sure it has all to do with those dictionaries! I still have the one I used to read from when I was a kid. Mine’s The American Heritage Dictionary. It was copy written in ’83, so it must’ve been my parents before it was mine – I only remember always having it. Anyway, dictionaries are so useful!

    • Peter Nena says:

      If yours is The American Heritage Dictionary, then we may have shared the same. Mine is a ’76 copy. Thank you Madilyn for your appreciation. DO have an treasured week ahead!

  24. A dictionary is a true friend, online or offline. That extra effort you put to search for the blog fest shows the attachment with this dictionary!

  25. Damyanti says:

    Peter, English isn’t my first language either, and I have a similar dictionary at home– I treasure it all the more now, because it is back home with my parents, and I’ve moved out. These days, to check out a word, I go online.

    Lovely post, and thankyou so much for co-hosting with me. You guys have made it so wonderful!

    • Peter Nena says:

      Hey. It’s wonderful to see you here. You, who made all this possible. And I am so happy now that we have the same dictionaries! Thank you Damyanti. Some days I wonder what I can do for you. You have done great things for me, my dear. Thanks. I hope you have a week full of smiles!

      • Damyanti says:

        Peter, it is all you guys who did it, I was just there to facilitate things. I’m quite kicked that we have the same dictionaries, too.

        You already do tons for me, you’re a good friend on BFF, a listening ear, and an encouraging commenter on my blog.

        Thank you for your friendship and your wishes, and I wish you the same. You’ve been a joy to work with.

      • Peter Nena says:

        All the best to you Damyanti. I am grateful.

  26. Julia Lund says:

    What an inspired choice and I loved reading about your love affair with language. I use my mother’s dictionary and my father’s thesaurus when I write. I also have an English-French/French-English dictionary and a Collins Robert, which gives me definitions in French. I think that mining meanings in another language unearths nuances and treasures that enrich my understanding.

    I hope that you will resolve your dilemma and come back to the writing that you love before too long … Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt post.

    • Peter Nena says:

      Thank you Julia. I like your statement that “mining meanings in another language unearths nuances and treasures that enrich my understanding”. It is true. To understand, we have to define the nitty-gritty, and the sounds–the sounds are truly important in order to make meaning.
      Thank you for appreciating this post, and for wishing me to start writing again. I am trying very hard. Do have a blessed week!

  27. Charlotte McDonnell says:

    I have the same dictionary. It was my mother’s and I grew up starring the words that I looked up. It’s such a treasure. I love the letter definitions too. 🙂

  28. The love of books… Yes. Not sure I’d put them above my dogs in, say, a fire, but it’d be a close thing 🙂 English isn’t my native language either, though I did learn it at an age that makes me sound like a native speaker (most of the time, haha); still, I treasured a big, big Oxford hardcover dictionary, with indents on the pages similar to yours, and was broken-hearted the day it finally gave up and fell apart. The pages were onion-skin light, the print small and precise and full of the promise of boundless wisdom… I loved that thing. And I hadn’t thought about it in–well, a very long time. Thank you for the reminder 🙂
    Guilie @ Quiet Laughter

    • Peter Nena says:

      Thank you for coming over. I’m glad you it provoked your own cherished memories. Boundless wisdom–I like that–the best thing about books. So much wisdom, entire lives, compacted into a few pages.

  29. I love it! One of my most cherished books is a gift given to me by a teacher when I was very young. A dictionary called the LIttle Webster, printed in 1957. It’s 1 1/2 inches by 2 inches. You heard me right, it’s that small. Printed in Germany and called A Lilliput dictionary, with over 636 pages. Mrs. Welch thought all writers needed to have an extensive vocabulary. And your AHDEL, I have one too. Books have always been my treasure. I even bought a pickup truck so I could haul them across country. No furniture, but tons of books! Nice to meet you Peter!

    • Peter Nena says:

      Thank you Yolanda. That lilliput dictionary makes me very curious. You make it such a wonderful thing to possess. Kept in the pocket or purse for quick reference. I love the way you cherish your books. Without books life is so dull. And I am very pleased that we both have the AHDEL. It is a treasure indeed.

    • Peter Nena says:

      I am very fine, thank you Tish. Glad to see you around. You missed this festival. It was wonderful. The dictionary indeed keeps the language alive.

  30. Denise Covey says:

    Wow Peter, as an English teacher it was awesome to read someone who’s most cherished object is a dictionary. What a great vocabulary you must have. Of course there’s all kinds of dictionaries. I’m not sure I could choose a favourite. Sadly, as I teach, the online dictionary is often called into play.

    It would be lovely to see you join us for the WEP challenge. Check it out if you have a chance:

    Denise 🙂

  31. Peter Nena says:

    Hello Denise. Thank you for stopping by. I am happy that you are a teacher. Teachers are the dispensers of knowledge. I taught in my former high school before I was called to join the University of Nairobi. Yolanda also invited me to join WEP. I shall visit the site and acquaint myself with it. Thanks.

  32. Thank you for this post Peter. I’ve been having a great time reading it. You built for yourself a great foundation in the English language. Bravo! With a solid foundation you can be sure of a solid edifice.

  33. Tish Farrell says:

    Hello, Peter. How are you? This looks to be a wonderful dictionary, and now I know how you stoke up that vey enviable fluency in your writing. It’s a lesson to us all. More of us should spend time ‘consuming’ the dictionary. It keeps language alive too.

    • Peter Nena says:

      I am very fine, thank you Tish. Glad to see you around. You missed this festival. It was wonderful. The dictionary indeed keeps the language alive.

  34. Kabirium says:

    And a thesaurus to keep her company

  35. Wonderful. May I ask what your native tongue is? =)

    • Peter Nena says:

      Hi Diana. Glad to see you over here.
      My mother tongue is called Dholuo. The tribe is Luo, but “Dho” is a modifier derived from “dhok” which means language, (but it can also mean mouth). Luo is one of the nilotic-speaking communities found in East Africa, settling along River Nile and around Lake Victoria (originally called Nam Lolwe) during the great migration from North Africa (possibly Egypt). Other languages related to Luo, such as the Dinka, remained in Sudan, while the Padhola, Acholi, etc, settled in Uganda. The rest spread through Tanzania all the way to Mozambique and God knows where else.
      Thank you for asking, and I hope your week has begun well.

      • Wow. Who knew? I’ll be sharing this with my boy. We’re studying Ancient Egypt and the Nile right now. =) Thanks for sharing, P! You think in English..or Dholuo?

      • Peter Nena says:

        English mostly. I’m used to it. In any given day, I meet more English speakers than Dholuo. At work place, for instance, where most of my week is spent. In the estate, which I share with some white folk, Chinese, Ethiopians, Philipinos, Indians, etc. My books too. My library. So I think in English. Tribal conflicts here have also seen more Kenyans speaking English regularly.
        I wish you’d read about the Kalenjin. Those fastest Kenyans with gold medals. Their language is the closest yet to what ancient Egyptians spoke. As a matter of fact, they have songs about Moses, who they speak of as a liberator. And they remember being in Egypt and fleeing southwards when some other forces invaded. I’ll search for a link with some good information and post it here.

    • Peter Nena says:

      Check out these:

      The “real history” author has a lot of good material but he seems to be pushing a different agenda, which detract from his work.

  36. […] My Most #Cherished Object—is a Dictionary 2015/07/25 […]

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