Monday, July 19, 2010

In Which Simon Whines About Dictionaries. Again.

Today I learned that the adjective for algae is algal. I did not know that. I would very much like to have a book that lists only unusual adjectives: porcine for pig-like, crotaline for rattlesnake-like, and halolimnic for sea creatures who spend time in fresh water-like.* There is, in fact, a website which lists many of these excellent words. It is called The Phrontistery and I would be a better writer (or at least more obscure writer, which is not the same) if I memorized the entire site from beginning to end. However, it does not list all of these adjectives ever in the entire world, and I want a complete compendium. Or, alternatively, I would like to request that dictionaries list adjectives of relation even when they are not etymologically related to the root word. You can look up algae and get algal, but you cannot look up goat and get hircine. Instead you get goat-like, which I am not convinced is a proper word the way hircine is a proper word. This, I think we can all agree, is a crime.

*I am not sure what this definition means. It sounds like this particular group of sea creatures has a permanent address in saltwater but vacations in fresh water. Thanks to my other favorite site Online Etymology Dictionary, which says halo- has to do with salt, and the internet at large, which says limnetic has to do with fresh water, I am going to guess the halolimnic sea creatures do cross over . . . but it would be easier if I could just look it up.** Therefore I would like to complain that the Oxford English Dictionary, the only one that actually has the words that you really, really can't guess at, costs thirteen hundred bucks and takes up half your house. Alternatively, one could pay three hundred bucks and get access to the website, which is much more logical, but provides less cause for outrage, and this post is about outrage!

**Turns out my other other favorite site says slightly more! Under halolimnic: "Designating marine organisms so modified that they can live in fresh water." By modified I assume it means evolved, but with dictionaries these days, who can tell.***

***, my other other other favorite site, can tell. It says halolimnic is a variant of halilimnic. AHA. "Living in fresh water, but exhibiting genetic affinity with forms of life that are restricted to salt water; actually limnetic, but phylogenetically marine."

I'm now wondering if I should have just described this algal water as slimy and saved myself an hour. This is why this novel is taking so long. DICTIONARIES.


lifelong fan said...

Possibly you have come up with another book to put on your list of things to be written - something like "Swimming in a Sea of Words - What Writers Do When They Are Not Actually Writing."

Simon said...

It would be fascinating to do a study on this. I will have to start making a list every time I realize I am "writing" but not actually writing. I think it would mostly consist of checking e-mail, getting lost in Wikipedia, and watching Rachel Maddow. And lately, dodging spiders that drop on my head while I am trying to work. That's very distracting.