Legendary coach Vince Lombardi is credited with this statement: The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary, Comedian Steven Wright quipped, “If a word were misspelled in the dictionary, how would we know it?” The dictionary is right up there with other hallowed tomes like encyclopaedias, atlases, familiar quotations, thesauruses and Dr. Spock. While the information contained within the pages is as relevant as it ever was, reference books have attained relic status. One only needs to remove an un-abridged dictionary from its home on a bookshelf, to unleash a flurry of dust motes capable of blocking out the sun.
We mean no disrespect to the lexicographers whose contributions are indisputable. The problem resides in the constraints of print, unable keep pace with changes on language, usage and meaning. In 2009 the Wall Street Journal examined the question of relevance in an article entitled, Is Google making dictionaries obsolete? Dictionaries are but another example of nobility turned to CRUD due to technological advancement. And yet, clients cling to their leather bound boat anchors with a devotion generally reserved for sentimental mementos like a child’s first lost tooth or a dried corsage from a formal. We look at them like pre-historic behemoths taking up as much shelf space as 8 normal books or twice as many issues of Architectural Digest. Carrying a large dictionary is virtually guaranteed to produce an instant hernia in anyone over the age of 65, not to mention the untold number or chiropractic visits instigated by such heavy lifting.
There is a misconception about dictionaries no doubt inspired by their heft, authority and often advanced age. People automatically assume that they are worth a great deal of money. Of course there are rare first editions that fetch thousands. The ones we stumble upon are usually anything but rare and can be found in the homes of a half a dozen neighbors. Unless you are a writer who insists on sticking with longhand to pursue your craft, you rely on your computer to supply all the definitions, synonyms and antonyms in a single swipe or keystroke.
Bear in mind, your dictionary is an inanimate object. Passing it on will not result in the ghosts of ancestors reaching from their graves to punish you for your insensitivity. But, your dictionary may not be that easy to give away. If you think yours has value for a collector, go ahead and explore that. Recycling is another option. You may also be able to re-purpose your old Webster’s or Oxford English to weigh down a tarpaulin to keep it from blowing away in a windstorm. You could even hollow out the center pages to convert your dictionary into a safe for cash or jewelry. After all, you now that no one is actually going to open it to look up a word.