Monday, January 14, 2019

The Value of the Dictionary

Frank V. Powell, The Value of the Dictionary (Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam, 1928). 3 1/4″ × 5 7/8″. Click for larger views.

My son Ben spotted this thirty-three-page pamphlet in a basket of teacherly ephemera at an antiques mall. He knew I’d love it. Thank you, Ben.

Frank V. Powell must have had great faith in his reader’s ability to make rapid progress. On page three:

Repeat the alphabet. Now look at the pages of your dictionary and see if the words in it are arranged A, B, C, D, E, F, etc., or, as we say alphabetically. Can you tell why the words are arranged in this way?
And on page four: drills to help the reader “avoid mumbling the alphabet” when looking up words. “What letter comes immediately after G? After M? After P?”

But by page fourteen: “Names of common diacritical marks.” And they follow: dot, macron, breve, and so on.

And by page thirty: “Thus, duc is a Latin root meaning ‘to lead.’” Slow down, sir.

Who was Frank V. Powell? A snippet in Google Books gave me the answer. From John Goadby Gregory’s Southwestern Wisconsin: A History of Old Crawford County (1932):
Devoting his efforts to the acquirement and dissemination of useful knowledge, Frank V. Powell has served as superintendent of schools at Platteville since 1917 and has materially further the progress of education in this part [and here the snippet ends].
Look again at the pamphlet’s back cover: might Mr. Powell be the wise superintendent?

Here’s a larger sample of Powell’s prose:

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)

comments: 2

Richard Abbott said...

Fascinatingly (or so I think), back in the days of hieroglyphs and cuneiform signs there was no stigma in breaking a word across a line ending, and no special sign or mark to alert the reader that this was happening. To mitigate that, both those sets of signs were normally used to denote a syllable at a time rather than an alphabetic sign, so the "breakage" was not so disastrous as si//lver.
Word endings were not signalled either (until the much later alphabetic version of cuneiform practiced at Ugarit) so you had to be alert to what you were reading. Naturally, in those cultures your readers were alert, as they formed a tiny minority of the population!

Michael Leddy said...

And how! And then there’s boustrophedon.

I can still remember checking hyphenation when typing term papers. And when I began teaching, writing “Hyphenate correctly” in margins. I don’t miss that.