Wednesday, May 31, 2006

An Ode to the O.E.D.

An Ode to the O.E.D. (Oxford English Dictionary)

My O.E.D., dear O.E.D.
My heart sings out an ode to thee
Thou fount of every English word --
Whether common, obscure, or absurd

How oft I turn the page with glee
Of thou, o faithful O.E.D.!
For thou wouldst not think to let me down
Thou bringest smiles, ne'er a frown

Thy tiny print, so hard to see;
I scan thy columns, A to Z,
To find if a new word I've coined
Or merely an ancient text purloined.

Thou hast me in wrong usage caught;
With trepidation I am fraught
Lest such an error I overlook --
An insult to my treasured book!

The mysterious beauty of our tongue,
Each elusive, haunting note we've sung
Has its place within thy pages
Language living through the ages

When I ponder your depth and scope
I am again filled up with hope
That the power of Language will not fade
Though our use of it sadly has decayed

Ignorance, Indolence, Indifference too --
Would all obstruct our love for you
But you stand ever ready against the tide
Whispering, "Treasures here reside."

The fewer words at our command,
The less ground we have on which to stand.
How can one voice his point of view
When limited to words so few?

Let nothing cure me of the need
To value you; Or the greed
To plumb you to your very core
And come out richer than before!

Lord God! I beg, forbid the day
My O.E.D should go away.
I cannot shake this contemplation:
Its fate is shared with civilization.

Dear O.E.D., Sweet O.E.D.!
I will pass on this love for thee;
That Sadie's thoughts won't be controlled --
Her mind contained or pigeon-holed.

O' guardian of sweet liberty
Essential for men to be free!
Those with ears -- proclaim you've heard
By drinking up each blessed word.


Hmmm . . . this started out as a silly, little rhyme that occurred to me while I was weeding our front lawn. I liked the transposition of letters in "ode" and "O.E.D.," and I do love my copy of the O.E.D. quite a bit (thanks, Dad!). As I was composing this light-hearted doggerel, it suddenly took a serious turn. Not that the "poetry" got any better, but my purpose became more sober. This quote from Madeleine L'Engle came to mind:

But I am a storyteller, and that involves language, for me the English language, that wonderfully rich, complex, and ofttimes confusing tongue. When language is limited, I am thereby diminished, too.

In time of war, language always dwindles, vocabulary is lost; and we live in a century of war.

(From Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (Shaw, 1980), "Icons of the True" p.35)

And let us not forget that, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." How powerful words are, whether spoken by our Creator or spoken by mankind!

I'm often amazed when people do not recognize words -- words that I speak in casual conversation, without a second thought, simply because they are the most appropriate to and expressive of the thought I am trying to convey. Even when I worked at Barnes & Noble, where about 80% of the employees were English majors, I'd still get comments like, "Why do you talk like that?" It's strange and unsettling.

Our cultural vocabulary does seem to be contracting, and our addiction to popular media has made a bad situation incalculably worse.

Anyway, language, particularly the English language, is very dear to me. I love words, maybe too much (can't you tell by my rambling style of getting a point across?). I hope that my daughter will adopt and nourish herself upon that love. Then, nothing in this world will be closed to her.

1 comment:

CrazyJo said...

I love your way with words! I wish I had a better vocabulary than I do, and it's not that bad compared to a lot of people out there. My sisters and I used to get teased for using words from the books we read, especially if we weren't exactly right in it's pronunciation! lol