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Dictionary Daysby Ilan Stavans
Synopses & Reviews
The whole of The Catcher in the Rye is in the Oxford English Dictionary, waiting to be unscrambled, and so are all the novels of our past, present, and immediate future
: a person filled with enthusiasm : as a: one who is ardently attached to a cause, object, or pursuit <a sports car enthusiast> b: one who tends to become ardently absorbed in an interest
A dictionary, despite its heroic effort to pin down language, is destined for failure the moment a single word is printed; language, with its eternal mutations, is forever uncontainable. In Dictionary Days, award-winning essayist Ilan Stavans explores our very human need to “seize upon the meaning of a word.” Owner of hundreds of dictionaries, he follows a fascinating, zigzagging history of lexicography across many languages, including English, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, and Cyrillic. Throughout his journey, Stavans spots strange meaning inconsistencies, uncovers unusual origins, and shares extraordinary and often hilarious anecdotes.
With a dazzling knowledge of dictionaries through the ages, matched by a lively wit, Stavans reaches far beyond the margin of the page and pays a worthy tribute to a discipline that is at once inspiring and maddening. “For dictionaries are oracles: nothing is outside them—except the impossible.”
"Springing from his free-form talk at a Michigan Quarterly Review panel discussion, this discursive and charming collection of personal essays by prolific Amherst professor Stavans (Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language) explores his lifelong obsession with dictionaries, concordances and lexicons. Just a few examples from his bulging reference shelves include Dr. Johnson's seminal dictionary, the Byzantine Lexeis, the medieval Kitab al-'Ain and Flaubert's Dictionary of Received Ideas. Stavans's ideal of the dictionary represents not only 'raw material' for polyglot scholars like himself. It's also 'the code to forthcoming masterpieces' such as Don Quixote, Moby-Dick and all of Shakespeare. Stavans cites these and more with offhand erudition. Drawing on his Mexican-American and Jewish backgrounds, he shares his experiences with English, Spanish and Yiddish and ventures into encounters with Arabic, Chinese and Sumerian. He muses on the meanings of particular words (like 'love' and 'death') in many languages and on the ambiguous status of colloquial speech, such as Spanglish and four-letter words. At his most playful, Stavans reveals his instructional debt to Fictionary, his deep enjoyment of 'cheesy' Mexican musicals and his dreams of fantastical blank books that contain only transporting aromas. Unlike most dictionaries, Stavans's eclectic volume feels too brief, but it shares their enlightening and browsable qualities for anyone who loves the serendipities of language. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
In 13 essays, Stavans (Latin American and Latino culture, Amherst College, Massachusetts) explores the history of lexicography across many languages, sharing strange meaning inconsistencies, unusual origins, and extraordinary anecdotes. He does not provide an index.
Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Book News Annotation:
In 13 essays, Stavans (Latin American and Latino culture, Amherst College, Massachusetts) explores the history of lexicography across many languages, sharing strange meaning inconsistencies, unusual origins, and extraordinary anecdotes. He does not provide an index. Annotation Â©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Ilan Stavans is the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. His latest books include Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language and The Schocken Book of Modern Sephardic Literature.
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History and Social Science » Linguistics » General