Dictionary love

This month I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, drawing from my “Grab Bag of Delectable and Occasionally Edifying Interwebby Wonderments.” 

Don’t you sometimes stop and gasp in awe at the ridiculously vast repertoire of facts, fictions and fabulosities available to us on the internet? A seemingly endless feast of information just waiting to catapult itself into our brains at the click of a link.

There are hundreds and hundreds of online dictionaries, and great whacks of specialty dictionaries on all kinds of subjects, including architectureastrology, medical terms and music. There’s even a Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a collection of words and phrases invented by artist and director John Koenig to describe feelings for which we don’t have names.

With all that bounty, it can be challenging to decide where to turn, so today I thought I’d  share a few of the sites I’ve stumbled across that may (or may not) be new to you and which you may (or may not) find as delicious as I do.

Alpha Dictionary Language Directory According to Alpha there are approximately 7,106 known languages, only 300 of which have online dictionaries. I’m not saying that someone out there is slacking, but come on, you dictionary coders, coffee break is over.

In the meantime the Alpha Directory has enough language dictionaries to make you swoon with delight, hundreds of them. If you’re desperate for cake and need to ask for it in Farsi or Finnish,  Cheyenne or CroatianMalay or Masaba, this site has your back. Your poor, sad cakeless back.

Visiuwords – This is an online graphical dictionary, not to be mistaken  for a visual dictionary (see below). When you enter a word into the Visiuwords search box, it produces diagrams of the word and its various meanings, as well as its associations with other words and concepts, resulting what the authors describe as a “neural net.”

I’m doing a hideous job of describing it, but I promise you it’s very cool. Go type the word hideous and see what I mean. (Remember to hover your cursor over the coloured blobs so the magnified text boxes pop up so you can actually read the text.)

Merriam-Webster’s Visual Dictionary Online  – I have two hard copy visual dictionaries at home, but sometimes I find myself needing/wanting to figure out the word for something when I’m too lazy to get off my rump out and about. For example, I might be wondering of a morning what the bit between a spider’s head and thorax is called, because I know bloody well it isn’t called a neck. I might be astonishingly lazy out and about, but I’m not that silly. All I need to do is summon the Visual Dictionary on my handy dandy laptop or cellphone  and boom! Now I know. It’s a cephalothorax. My spider friends are going to be so impressed.

And finally, a list of favourite dictionaries wouldn’t be complete without at least a mention of the Dictionary of Symbols and Symbol.com, two yummy collections off all manner of graphic signs and symbols. Alchemical symbols, hobo signs, religious iconography, Celtic symbols, wingdings.–a little something for every curious mind.

How about you? Do you have any favourite online dictionaries you’d like to share in the comments?

A to Z Challenge: English

During the 2013 Blogging from A to Z Challenge I’m posting what  I like to describe as “semi-useful” procrastination strategies for writers and others who may need a little break from the task at hand from time to time.  

Today’s post will be brief because I’ve been sick all week, I’m tired, and I wasn’t organized enough to write and schedule all my posts in advance. Don’t judge me. It had nothing to do with procrastination. Nothing. Honestly.

I love writing. Love it. And one of the reasons I love it is because I’m nuts about this crazy old English language–its pliability, its robustness, its quirkiness, its willingness to be wrestled into seemly shapes, its changeability. In short, i’s a hugely rewarding medium to be messing with. So, when I have a bit of time on my hands (or want to pretend I do) one of my favourite distractions is poking around on the web exploring sites devoted to the English language, and I thought I’d share a few of those with you.

The BBC site offers a charming little interactive Ages of English Timeline that will give you a quick run through of the history of the English language from Olde English, through the Anglo Saxon Invasions, the Viking raids, the Norman Conquest, right through to the present day. Don’t forget to clicky-clicky on al the wiggling parts, or you’ll miss some vital event, such as the Great Vowel Shift of the 15th Century.

Or, if you have quite a lot more time on your hands (or something you’re trying very, very hard to avoid doing) why not dive into The Story of English? This nine-part series originally aired on PBS back in the 80s and is now available free online. It’s on the older side, but it’s well worth the investment of time.

Finally, the Oxford English Dictionary’s YouTube channel has a small collection of video shorts that offer a behind-the-scenes look at the process of producing the dictionary. It’s fascinating stuff if you’ve ever wondered how decisions are made about the criteria for adding words to the dictionary, or how the dictionary is researched, compiled and revised. I’m making it sound boring, but it’s really, really not. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I highly recommend Simon Winchester’s terrific book, The Meaning of Everything, “a scintillating account of the creation of the greatest monument erected to a living language” (the Oxford English Dictionary).

Okay, I lied. This post isn’t as brief as I thought it was going to be. On the up side, indulging in these procrastination strategies is something you can actually feel virtuous about, and, if you’re a fan of lexicography, you’ll find them just as entertaining as bouncing cats!

There are some terrific bloggers participating in the challenge this year. Check them out over here.