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, 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.