The Thunker - Sarah Donohoe

Ha! I knew I wasn’t alone. After I wrote last week about my preference to look up definitions in my old American Heritage dictionary—a hefty tome that provides the same comfort as a heavy blanket on the bed in winter—I learned that lots of people out there are still using their printed dictionaries rather than the Internet. [My comments are in brackets.]

Bill S. with Allnut Funeral Service said, “I, too, have two dictionaries at arm’s reach. One is a medical dictionary so I can TRY to interpret what some doctors have handwritten on death certificates. I still have to call them often to confirm before I finalize the legal documents. [I believe this requires a PhD in MD Handwriting Interpretation, Bill. It’s a five-year program plus a one-year residency with a left-handed doc.] Electronic certificates are available, and soon there will not be an option of signing a paper certificate. But there are still a few of our wonderful docs in town who are reluctant to go paperless. I’m blessed that they are all within a few minute’s scenic drive, as I have to hand-deliver and pick up the documents from their office. While there, I get to visit a friend or two, whether they are working or visiting our wonderful medical facilities.”

Bill said, “My other dictionary is an old Merriam-Webster that I would prefer to use to look up a word rather than ‘google.’ The best part of that is checking out all the other words on the pages. There’s always something to learn. That’s something that Google and Bing don’t provide.” [So right you are, Bill. Sometimes I play a game: I try to find a page in the dictionary where I know every word on the page. Think it’s easy? Try it.]

A retired English teacher, Sharon B. chimed in: “I am a bridger; I use the Merriam-Webster dictionary app.” [I’m sorry, Sharon, I am going to have to look up the word bridger. But should I look it up in the hardbound dictionary or on the Merriam-Webster app?]

Sharon also said, “I did experience pain, though, when I gave up my huge Roget’s when I downsized to move to Estes.” [Know what? I grew up thinking Roget was pronounced Rah-JET. It was a hard habit to break. And you’re right: Roget’s Thesaurus is a word orgy. If I start looking through mine when I am not under deadline, I can’t tear myself away. The array of words is deep, broad, and richer than pot de crème.]

Sharon continued: “Here is a column idea: address our habit of making nouns into verbs. You touched on it with ‘I googled it.’ It seems such a lazy habit. Hope I’m not ‘disrespecting’ you.” [You’ve tasked me with the idea of verbing. I’ll have to ponderize that one.]

Nan was accused of being a Google geek after telling us last week that no one has a dictionary anymore because everyone uses Google. She replied, “I haven't always been a Google geek. In third grade, as punishment for talking in class, Miss McDonald had me write the dictionary. I don't remember how far I got but I know that I have had a respect and love for language that lasted throughout my life.” [Nan, I can think of better ways to get a child to love language. I counted 53 definitions on one randomly selected page. Did you even get past the first page?]

Becky U. said, “Ah, the beauty of dictionaries. You will really appreciate them if you read The Professor and the Madman. It was a best seller several years back, and was recently again recommended by Fareed Zakaria. It is a history of the decades, actually centuries, of the creation of the first comprehensive English dictionary…the Oxford Dictionary.” [Sounds interesting. I’ll get to it as soon as I finish reading my Roget’s Thesaurus.]

Marcia T. said, “I love [the search engine] Bing. It is my go-to site EVERY DAY. I love to see the new photo they post and try to guess the location or even what part of the globe it is. I never go to Google. But still we use the term Google. We google something when we are actually using Bing. So what should we call it? [Boogle, perhaps? ] If everyone used Bing instead of Google maybe ‘binging it’ wouldn’t sound so strange.” [I agree, Bing does have a fun, colorful, educational home page. Then again, Google’s homepage is often entertaining too.]

Gary H. gave us the flip side of the coin: “Of course, the word ‘googol’ (which was the inspiration for ‘Google’) existed for quite some time. It was invented as early as 1935 by a mathematician to express 1 followed by 100 zeroes (10 to the hundredth power).

“So, even though there’s a spelling difference, I’ve been using the word ‘googol’ for my entire (64.5-year) life. ” [Since you’re 64.5-year-old who has always used the word googol, does that make you a googol geezer, Gary?]

Gary said, “I don’t think this is relevant to your article, except for the historical tidbit that Edward Kasner’s nine-year-old nephew invented the word that Google’s creative team riffed on.” [Riffed on? I’m Boogle Ginging that one for sure.]

Two days ago (October 16) was National Dictionary Day. I don’t think anybody would mind if we celebrated a little late. Break out your favorite dictionary—hard bound, paperback, or online—and find a new word. Shout it out. Write it on your forehead. Whisper it to someone under the mistletoe. Stick it in an envelope and mail it to someone you secretly admire. Pipe it with frosting on top of a cake. Be magniloquent with it. Go ahead, look it up and whoop it up!

You may let The Thunker know what you think at her e-mail address,

© 2019 Sarah Donohoe

(1) comment


I thoroughly enjoyed this one, Sarah! I used my little vest pocket Webster and flipped open to a page in the e's...and found a word I'd never known (nor heard of before): eurus: east wind. Who knew? The eurus is calm here today in Wisconsin! Thanks for the fun read! :)

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