Dictionary: [noun] book containing information on a particular class of words, names or factsby Edward Docx / September 19, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
It’s dawn chez Docx and I am lying in the sumptuous Arcadia of my private apartments wondering how best to carry out the Herculean labour with which I have been tasked: namely, to review the packed and teeming 1480 pages of the 19th edition of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. For those unfamiliar, this gargantuan work was first compiled by a certain Dr Ebenezer Cobham Brewer and published in 1870. And it contains within its monumental covers the definitions-of, the explanations-as-to, the derivations-from-which, the surmises-about, the references-to, the anecdotes-concerning and the curiosities-pertaining-to pretty much… well, every phrase and fable ever used in this great language of ours. The mother of all bastards to review, in other words.
Worse, in recent days, I have been lamenting out loud the cloth-ears and clacking-tongues of many of my fellow critics, who seem not to have studied either the language or literature of their chosen report—indeed, seem to have little interest or regard for writing at all—and, instead, measure all works on one of two criteria: “likeability” for fiction and “approachability” for non-fiction. At root, my complaint has been about a lack of engagement. But how, then, can I (from atop my high horse) effectively engage with this monstrous work now so fatly disporting itself on my bedside table?
The hour strikes seven. Enter wives, children, supporters, retinue and the rest. Tumult and confusion, joy and tears, laughter, plans, hopes, kisses, bouncings, bundlings, obtuse reports, obscure reprisals, tellings-off and eggings-on. And then amidst all this, the abundance of life, I suddenly have an idea. Yes, I must live the review! I must—quite literally—bring the book to life. My life! I extract myself from the melee, leap from the bed and thus to work.