Monday, July 13, 2015


Unfortunately in a moment of delusional optimism I happened upon a recent article filled with praise for the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd Edition, 1989, a mere 22 volumes). The writer noted that the dictionary was her favorite worldly possession. Not only more sobering than wine, but better by a wide margin than anything she's ever owned, including "books, paintings and drawings, souvenirs, jewels - shoes even."

Image result for oxford english dictionary 2nd edition
Reading Material for Court
Something about this struck a deep cord with me. For a week or so I wondered how owning this marvel might change my life. Would it make me a better person, a better American, and for any possible tax deduction, a better lawyer?

I'd wake up, make espresso and randomly draw forth a volume, reading a new word's history, usage, lineage and sit back savoring how I'd spring it on the next unsuspecting person I happened upon. If a lawyer, fine; if a judge, so much the better; if a juror, forget it. No doubt there are words in those fine books unfit for jurors or even other lawyers, but could there ever be a word unfit or unprofitable to spill in open court to win a judge's smile? 

Last Friday in Court in Clearwater while slumped in a juror's chair waiting for my client's important criminal case to be called, I was jolted awake when I heard a lawyer, nearly as regular looking as you or me, speaking with the lilt of a real British accent. Most of what he said seemed to be understandable to the judge, but there were unmistakable rumblings of mutual miscommunication that only knowledge from a true English dictionary laced with a steady diet of Downton Abbey and Sherlock Holmes could solve. All this was done while the lawyer performed an English dance with his client around the podium, like a scene from Pride and Prejudice, till the Bailiff put it to a stop.

All this makes me wonder. How would I manage to take all 22 volumes of the dictionary with me every time I go to court? Wouldn't it be better to squirrel away a volume or two in each of the courtrooms? Then I could focus on using a big word from the dictionary of whatever courtroom I happen to be in that day? Everyone would be amazed. I might even amaze myself. 

Yet more importantly, would possession and possible occasional use of the dictionary change my voice so that I sound like Sean Connery? But there are other questions. Would the words accumulating like raindrops in a birdbath overflow when I least expected it? Would some words escape, fly far away and never return? If so, how could I live without them?

These questions and hesitant answers are pushing me down the path toward actually buying the Oxford Dictionary, especially because this edition is to be the last one ever to be printed. The dictionary like most everything else is now online for your yearly payment. Wouldn't it be cheaper in the long run based on my life expectancy (let's think half full here) to buy a complete Oxford Dictionary and hope for the best? 

One hopes my use of the books won't be disrupted by future federal  criminal laws. Could Congress make it a federal crime to possess or distribute them? After all, the dictionary clearly contains words that are in fact representations of known unlawful drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine. Who knows what might happen if I read them. What if I read the word euphoria? 

I ordered the dictionary. I'll let you know how it goes, but in the meantime if you happen to get a call from Sean Connery, don't hang up, it's just me trying out some fancy words with my new accent.